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Inside details on the Copa América Centenario

When the announcement was made last weekthat a special Copa América Centenario will be played in the United States in 2016, CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb told reporters that Fox Sports and Univision had an exclusive negotiating window for U.S. TV rights. To no one's surprise, it did not take long for Univision to seal a deal.

Inside details on the Copa América Centenario

Expect big crowds at some of America´s biggest stadiums for the Copa América Centenario in 2016. (Bill Kostroun/AP file photo)
Expect big crowds at some of America's biggest stadiums for the Copa América Centenario in 2016. (Bill Kostroun/AP file photo)

When the announcement was made last week that a special Copa América Centenario will be played in the United States in 2016, CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb told reporters that Fox Sports and Univision had an exclusive negotiating window for U.S. TV rights.

To no one's surprise, it did not take long for Univision to seal a deal. The network announced Thursday that it had secured the Spanish-language broadcast package for the tournament.

It isn't the only soccer rights move Univision is making right now. It's my understanding that an announcement is expected early next week, likely either Monday or Tuesday, on a new Spanish-language TV deal between Univision, Major League Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Federation.

You'll also see quite a few international friendlies across Univision networks between now and the World Cup. They include all of the United States and Mexico's warm-up games; two Honduras games that will be played in the U.S.; Spain vs. El Salvador in Landover, Md.; Ireland-Portugal in Foxborough, Mass; and more.

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Let's turn back to the Copa América, though, because soccer fans across the U.S. are rightly buzzing about it. With all the top nations from North, South and Central America coming to the U.S. that summer, the tournament will to be an incredible spectacle.

On Friday, I spoke with Univision Deportes president Juan Carlos Rodriguez about what his expectations are for the event and what it will mean for his network.

"It's the biggest thing that we have seen since the World Cup in the U.S.," he said. He even went to far as to make "a statement that will shock you - the average per game ratings for the Copa Centenario will be higher than the World Cup itself" on Univision.

Before you call Rodriguez crazy, he made clear that he was referring to Spanish-language ratings specifically. Still, given how high and how quickly his network's viewership for soccer has risen over the years, you might not want to bet against him.

It will be a big enough deal to have the biggest national teams from South America come to our shores in 2016. But it will be especially big for fans of the six CONCACAF teams that will play in the tournament: the United States, Mexico, the 2014 Caribbean Cup winner, the 2014 Central American Cup winner, and the top two teams in the 2015 Gold Cup who haven't already qualified.

That gives lots of nations the opportunity to make it into the field, and to challenge some of international soccer's biggest stars.

"These teams would almost never play in an official tournament, except for the World Cup, against the Neymars of the world and the Luis Suárezes of the world and the [Lionel] Messis of the world," Rodriguez said. "It makes tons of sense for the U.S. and Mexico for al the reasons that we know, but for our friends from Honduras and El Salvador and Jamaica… There are only three tickets for the World Cup for CONCACAF, so having six tickets for this is huge."

Rodriguez then broke some news about how the tournament will be structured.

He told me that all games not on weekends are guaranteed to be played in prime time. It's in the contract for organizing the tournament, and Rodriguez told me that he was part of the negotiations to make sure of it.

When the tournament was first announced, many fans wondered whether Copa América game kickoff times would conflict with European Championship kickoff times, as the two tournaments overlap on the calendar. The Copa América is scheduled for June 3 to June 26, and the Euros are scheduled for June 10 to July 10.

Rodriguez told me that CONCACAF and CONMEBOL officials were well aware of the potential issue, and worked to avoid simultaneous games.

"They were very aware, and we were aware, and without disclosing what it's said in the contract, it's very clear that it has to be played at smart, prime times," Rodriguez said. "That makes sense for everyone. We're all building this event."

Here's more news: it's in the tournament contract that "it has to be a FIFA date." Although CONCACAF, CONMEBOL and U.S. Soccer haven't gotten FIFA's official blessing to force clubs to release their top players, Rodriguez said that tournament organizers "have committed to making it happen."

So what about venue selection? Rodriguez echoed CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb's remarks at the event announcement that there's nothing confirmed just yet. But Rodriguez expects all of the venues to be NFL-sized stadiums. That's no surprise, given the likely huge demand for tickets.

Rodriguez told me that this is where having the U.S. Soccer Federation on board with organizing the tournament will come in handy.

"By having Sunil's team on board it will align to everybody's interest," Rodriguez said, referring to USSF president Sunil Gulati. "It's a very smart political approach from everybody to have everyone at the same table."

Webb also said at the event announcement that Fox and Univision, CONCACAF's current TV partners, were given an exclusive negotiating window for Copa América Centenario rights. Rodriguez confirmed this, and offered some insight into the discussions that took place.

"Normally what would have happened is open season for the bid," Rodriguez said. "In this specific case, [CONCACAF general secretary] Enrique Sanz and president Webb were very loyal partners to us in letting them [CONMEBOL] know that we are real partners here, so they gave us an opportunity to deal first."

It likely helped that Univision has a longstanding relationship with CONMEBOL. The network started broadcasting the traditional Copa América in the United States in 1991, and it has had Spanish-language rights to every tournament since 2001.

The Copa Centenario rights were not part of Univision's existing deals with CONCACAF or CONMEBOL, Rodriguez told me, and the network did pay a separate rights fee. He wouldn't say what the fee was, but he called it "a fair deal."

"The number is big enough to be a very big investment, but to allow us to make money out of it," he said. "It's a win-win situation for both parties."

I followed that up by asking Rodriguez if he knew anything about where Fox stood with negotiations. He said he didn't, but added that "our friends from Fox are very smart… I'm sure they're going to nail it."

From what I've been hearing, I'd expect Fox to get a deal done. But if they somehow don't, you can expect plenty of competition, especially from ESPN and beIN Sport.

ESPN senior vice president of programming Scott Guglielmino told me at the network's World Cup press conference last week that "we always look at big rights, [and] that's obviously a terrific property."

He's as much of a soccer fan as anyone else, and is certainly thrilled by the prospect of Euro games in the afternoon and Copa América games at night.

Guglielmino cautioned, though, that the one-time nature of the event made it difficult for him to assess things right then in the moment. He also noted that ESPN has made a major investment in the Euros as the tournament's U.S. broadcaster in all languages, and he called that tournament "our focus in the summer" of 2016.

I've also heard from sources that beIN will throw its hat in the ring if it gets a chance. Right now, the network is focused on the 2015 tournament, but if the opportunity comes to bid for 2016 it sounds like they'll be interested.

Wherever the tournament broadcasts end up, you can be sure it will be a big deal. Indeed, on the day it was announced, it knocked World Cup preparations and the climax to European league seasons out of the main headlines in American soccer circles.

The excitement will only keep building between now and then.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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