The signs were there, from both Univision and Telemundo. The former had been broadcasting the World Cup in the USA since the SIN days of the '70s. They were the only ones that broadcast every game of the tournament without commercial interruption up until 1994, when ESPN took the English-language rights.
Even so, it was a conscious choice for me to watch the tourney on Univision. ESPN's first few World Cups seemed labored. There was little passion, and it seemed like it was nothing more than a contractual obligation. Univision on the other hand was nothing but passion. The gooool chants, the on-location reporting, calling the game from the location and not a studio. They set a very high bar. It's too bad they kept lowering it.
That all changed in 2010. ESPN finally gave the tournament the coverage it deserved: knowledgeable talking heads, both on the anchor and commentator side, stunning sets, eye-popping graphics, and excellent theme music. It was appointment television, and for the first time in my adult life, I watched a World Cup in English. Their coverage was better than Univision's. A lot better.
Univision's coverage in 2010 seemed to paint by numbers, not set the stage. They seemed to do just enough, and they rarely went out of their way to elevate their broadcasts. Their announcers were average, bordering on annoying. The World Cup on Univision had gone stale. It was if they took the "it's in Spanish, so they'll watch" approach to programming. Why make the extra effort?
Over the past few years, the extra effort has been exerted by Telemundo, which has slowly and methodically been chipping away at Univision's dominance in the market. They made a deal with Chivas to broadcast their home games. They also brokered deals to broadcast Tigres, Monterrey, and Pumas' home games. They did lose the Mexican national team's games to Univision, but retain the rights to their away qualifiers (and let's be honest: those are the ones that are the most intriguing). And, of course, as part of NBC Universal's family of networks, they will be broadcasting London 2012.
Outside of sports, they have raised the bar with heaps of original programming. But they needed that game changer, and they got it when FIFA awarded them with the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups; the crown jewel in Spanish-language programming. They did pay handsomely for the privilege: a reported $600MM. It will be worth every penny.
Telemundo has a lot of work to do in the next 8 years. Their image quality has to be improved. I live in Texas and still do not get their signal in HD. Those things will get worked out. What about the sizzle?
If Futbol de Primera (Andres Cantor's radio network, which also secured radio rights for 2018 and 2022) is any indication of how committed the network will be to creating a compelling broadcast, then we are in for a treat. In my stubbornness to hear the Mexico games in Spanish in 2010, I found FDP audio streams and synced them up with the TV signal because I could not deal with the announcers. Cantor had a gaggle of commentators, all of whom brought their own special brand of insight, humor, frustration, and analysis. He had Mexicans, South Americans, Americans, Bora, a retired ref... it was very entertaining.
It made me wonder, if only this was on the telly....
We'll find out in a few years.