TMR Q&A: Eli Velazquez from NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises on Growing Fútbol Americano’s Latino Fan Base

With projections of 53 million Latino NFL fans in the U.S. by 2050, we asked Eli Velazquez, EVP, Sports, for NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, to help us better understand the Latino sports fan, particularly around fútbol americano (American football), and how NBCUniversal and the network’s Spanish-language sports division, Telemundo Deportes, look to grow that fan base.

Velazquez oversees all Telemundo Deportes sports production, programming, acquisitions, operations and content. He is also responsible for the management and execution of major Spanish-language event coverage, including FIFA World Cup properties, the Olympic Games, NFL Sunday Night Football, U.S. Soccer Federation matches, Premier League and Liga MX’s Chivas de Guadalajara, working closely with NBC Sports and Peacock. 

Since joining Telemundo in 1999 as a producer for “Boxeo Telemundo” and “Titulares Telemundo,” he has progressed to roles of increasing responsibility, including Senior Producer, Director of Sports and VP, Sports.

Today, he plays an integral role in the management and execution of Telemundo Deportes’ marquee sports properties. Velazquez spearheaded the production of Telemundo’s historic coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019, Copa America Brazil 2019 and more recently FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, which included the most-streamed FIFA World Cup Match in U.S. media history regardless of language. In 2022, he was instrumental in delivering the first-ever Super Bowl to air on a Spanish broadcast network, which became the most-watched NFL game in Spanish-language history and the decade’s highest-rated Spanish-language, non-soccer sporting event.

Under his leadership, Telemundo Deportes partnered with U.S. Soccer to become the exclusive Spanish-language home of U.S. National Teams beginning in 2023.

A six-time National Emmy Award winner and a four-time recipient of the Imagen Foundation’s Influential Latinos in Media, Valazquez also serves as the Executive Champion for NBCUniversal’s UNIDOS Employee Resource Group.

For some viewership context, Sunday Night Football on Telemundo/Universo (TV + Streaming) is having its best season through week 9 since 2015 and second best out of its 18 years. Thanks in part to two simulcasts of Cowboys games (328,000), SNF Spanish language broadcasts are up an average of 163 percent year-over-year. (through week 9).

Below is our interview, edited for length and clarity.

Team Marketing Report: The interest in the Latino fan for American football continues to grow. Telemundo’s commitment to the NFL and Sunday Night Football is a big part of that. How has that relationship been expanding for the audience?
Velazquez

Eli Velazquez: Latinos are known for their passion for fútbol or soccer, but the community’s enthusiasm for athletics extends far beyond, and I think the key to serving this audience is accessibility – especially with fútbol americano. The NFL continues to prioritize efforts that bring fútbol americano to a wider audience, growing its Latino fan base substantially over the past decade and our work together is a big part of that.

Through our partnership, we have had the opportunity to deepen and expand our relationship with the audience, offering Latinos authentic Spanish-language coverage across digital platforms and Peacock – in addition to our linear offering on Telemundo and Universo. Our coverage informs and entertains authentically with voices of experience who are relatable and who make the journey of growing fandom fun.

The median age of Hispanics in the U.S. is 29 years old, making Hispanics the youngest multicultural group in the country and the most digitally and tech savvy.

To address the future of your business, you must speak to them in both Spanish and English and provide content across all platforms. Fortunately, we are perfectly aligned with the NFL & NBC Sports and together, we’re doing the right things to promote the growth of the sport with our coverage.

TMR: The Latino demo for some brand marketers remains elusive. With Telemundo’s live sports footprint from football to fútbol, how have you seen brands find a sweet spot to reach this fast growing demo?

EV: Telemundo Deportes’ partnership with the NFL is natural and easy. Our purpose and priorities align – we are committed to serving the passionate and vibrant Hispanic community and enhancing the fan experience. Our NFL rights are part of an NBC Universal deal, and together, the NBC Universal package extends NFL content to the full spectrum of Hispanics, including what we call the “200 percenters” – audiences who are 100 percent American and 100 percent Hispanic, and consume content in both Spanish and English.

Compared to other market offerings, we view the Hispanic audience in a much more holistic way and we’re able to extend that to our partners unlike anyone else in the industry.

We reach the traditional Spanish language and the English language viewers well already across NBC Universal, and by carrying NFL in Spanish and working closely with the league, we increase the Hispanic fan’s appetite for NFL, while giving the 200 percenters the opportunity and the option to watch NFL in either language. Our competitors simply can’t offer brands and advertisers what NBC Universal can

TMR: You have probably the most Latino focused broadcast team covering the NFL. How does the work and the understanding of the talent fit into a more holistic experience for those watching?

EV: Our coverage is comparable to NBC Sports’, but the content we produce for Telemundo is created specifically for the Hispanic fan.

Our goal is to offer coverage that’s authentic and genuine in a way that speaks to the experience of the Latino culture. Our content is thoughtful and deviates from time to time from what NBC Sports offers depending on our own take on games or the editorial features we may want to highlight and overall we see that as additive to our common goals with this amazing property. We lean into the local community, double down on culture, and sprinkle cultural elements to create a more relatable experience.

Miguel Gurwitz and Rolando Cantú in a screengrab of Telemundo Deportes’ live 2023 NFL Draft coverage

We’ve experienced great success and have built on that momentum to elevate the Telemundo Deportes brand and the quality of sports broadcasting for the Hispanic audience.

In 2022, we delivered a historic broadcast of Super Bowl LVI – the first Super Bowl to air on a Spanish broadcast network and the most-watched NFL game in Spanish-language history – and since, we’ve introduced a new Sunday Night Football announce team, featuring former Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman and recent Emmy Award nominee, Rolando Cantú as analyst with Emmy-award winning sports journalist Miguel Gurwitz as play-by-play announcer.

TMR: The IOC announced flag football for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, which will be on Telemundo as part of the relationship with NBC Universal. Flag football has made a big push into engaging young Latinos and Latinas. Any thoughts on how that can help raise the football engagement weekly on Telemundo?

EV: The participation of flag football for the LA Olympics will likely increase the interest and understanding of the sport across all audiences including young Latinos. I look forward to having this new discipline be part of this global competition and the opportunity for engagement with the sport.

Flag football represents a lower barrier for entry to the sport, making it accessible to wider audiences. Flag football doesn’t rely on equipment like helmets or shoulder pads, and when you reduce the barrier of entry into any sport, and you make it more accessible for people to play it, and understand it, that could easily transition into a fandom of the content at the highest level and vice versa. A global platform like the Olympics can only benefit the sport.

TMR: The NFL’s global aspirations include Mexico and Spain. How do those endeavors help raise the profile of Telemundo and vice versa?

EV: We’ve seen an increase in Hispanic fandom and know the NFL implements robust international programs particularly in Mexico and Spain – both Spanish-speaking nations obviously.

We’ve learned that many of the fans who immigrated to this country already have a healthy awareness of the NFL and the teams – in fact, they even have their own teams to root for, with the Las Vegas Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers being some of the more popular ones.

The opportunity is there, and the NFL has done a great job in activating fan engagement and commercial efforts increasing the number of games, meaningful games that are played in these different countries across the world. This is a strategy that ultimately benefits domestic right holders like us, making it easier for us to engage on a much deeper level with the fans who choose to immigrate to this country. Once they are here, our job is to serve them with the best and most authentic coverage in their language.

TMR: Can you share any details/explanations on the differences in how games are promoted or how a Telemundo broadcast varies from English language on FOX, CBS, NBC or ESPN/ABC will be well-received?

EV: Our coverage of the NFL focuses on players, coaches or personnel of Hispanic descent whenever possible. Our goal is for our viewers to relate to the game, feel that they are represented culturally, and that the game is accessible to them.

We’ve seen an increase in draft picks with Latino backgrounds such as cornerback Christian Gonzalez, whose father is from Colombia, in New England and linebacker Fred Warner, who has Mexican and Panamanian roots in his parentage, in San Francisco.

These are players that are stars representing the Hispanic community in the U.S. and it’s our job to convey their stories in a way that is most authentic and genuine to those players’ experiences. These are the storylines that engage and excite our NFL viewers.

Another way we differentiate is going the extra mile to make sure we have the right talent representing growth in the space like former player Rolando Cantú, who I consider the best analyst for NFL in Spanish language. As a former player, his contribution to our coverage brings the legitimacy to our efforts and he does so in a way that is relatable and genuine to the audience we serve. In addition to narrative storytelling, our coverage showcases and features relevant community-based stories tied to the league whenever we have the opportunity, and we do so through the lens that helps us to best connect with our audience.

 

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