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An ESPN Rookie With Room To Grow

2/06/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

ESPN Deportes is playing catchup with other Spanish-language sports networks. But, thanks to the strong backing of its parent company, it’s gaining subscribers in a hurry.

ESPN Deportes celebrated its first anniversary as a full-time channel last month and has already gained a slot in 7 million cable homes, including close to 1 million Hispanic households. It has inked deals with six of the 10 biggest distributors in the nation, but it has yet to conquer Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable, DirecTV Inc. or EchoStar Communication Corp.’s Dish Network.

As a result, ESPN Deportes is now carried in most of the largest Latino markets, including parts of New York, Los Angeles and Miami. It has also scored quickly with advertisers, signing up such blue-chip corporate sponsors as Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.; General Motors Co.; Miller Brewing Co.; Sears, Roebuck and Co.; and Volkswagen AG.

“We were embraced from day one,” says Lino Garcia, general manager of ESPN Deportes. “The ESPN brand was very powerful … We benefit by our pedigree.”

In the Hispanic cable TV market, which has about 7.5 million homes, ESPN Deportes is competing against such older players as Fox Sports en Español and Gol TV. It also competes against imported Mexican sports channel AYM Sports, as well as entrenched Spanish broadcasters that run sports-heavy weekend lineups.

But ESPN officials believe their rookie network has room to grow in this relatively small, crowded space. They plan to place ESPN Deportes in more than 2 million Latino cable households, or about 30% of the total Latino cable universe, by yearend.

“I think there’s room for three or four [Hispanic sports services],” Garcia says. “Certainly there’s room for us.”

One major reason for such faith is that the Hispanic TV market is growing swiftly. Operators project that the number of Latino cable homes will climb by 1 million over the next three years, a 12% to 13% increase.

Another reason is the quality ESPN Deportes programming. Like its English-language parent, the Spanish network’s schedule is full of live U.S. sports action, including scores from Major League Baseball, National Football League and National Basketball Association contests. It also shows plenty of international sports, including games from the Mexican and European soccer leagues and the Dominican and Mexican baseball leagues.

In addition, ESPN Deportes offers Spanish-language sports news and information shows, including a separately produced version of SportsCenter. Its latest programming initiative is Cronometro (Stopwatch), a roundtable opinion and debate program.

“We hope to develop more shows like that,” Garcia says. “We’re looking to build more programming.”

September