Staff Reporter

For soccer fans, it's the mother lode of sports channels soccer from Mexico, soccer from Chile, soccer from Italy, soccer from Argentina, soccer from Germany.

And if an actual game doesn't happen to be on, there's always news about soccer or futbol as it's called on Fox Sports World Espa & #324;ol, a sort of ESPN for Latinos.

After several name and ownership changes over the last five years, the Century City-based cable channel was re-launched four months ago as a division of Fox Sports International.

As the nation's only 24-hour, Spanish-language sports network, Fox Sports World Espa & #324;ol offers access to a group that traditionally has been all but ignored as an entertainment audience young Latino men.

The market is normally hard to reach because programming on the nation's two major Spanish-language broadcast networks Century City-based Univision Communications Inc. and Sony Corp.'s Telemundo is heavily skewed toward female viewers, given a programming mix that's heavy on telenovelas (soap operas) and game shows.

The major sports networks, such as Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN and Fox's regional sports cable channels, do not attract a large number of Latino viewers understandable since they broadcast in English and feature basketball, football and baseball rather than soccer.

"It has been hard to target them in the way we could target them in the general market," said Karen Treydte, media director of Torrance-based Conill Advertising, a subsidiary of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide that focuses on the Latino market.

"There's no Monday Night Football," she said of the viewing habits of the Latino market. "There's no Major League Baseball. There's no sports radio. In the Hispanic market, we have had fewer choices for the purely male viewer."

And yet, the purchasing power of Latinos is expected to double in the United States within the next 10 years, to $712 billion.

Dan Casey, vice president and general manager of Fox Sports World Espa & #324;ol, said the network brings its advertisers attractive demographics. Because Fox Sports World Espa & #324;ol is only available in homes with cable or satellite dishes, its viewers are relatively affluent.

"I think what we bring to the table is a very clear male option," he said. "From a media standpoint, it gives (advertisers) an option where you can say, 'OK, I can cover my male demographic. I know I don't have to worry about men because I just bought a sports network.' "

So how does Fox Sports World Espa & #324;ol attract its young male Latino audience? How else? Lots of soccer.

Except for several hours a week devoted to boxing and rugby, and a couple hours a day of sports news, the schedule is almost entirely comprised of soccer games and soccer highlights.

Besides games from leagues in South America, Mexico and Europe, featured broadcasts include such prestigious soccer championships as Coppa Italia, European Super Cup, English FA Cup and Copa Am & #233;rica.

Soccer is popular among Latino men not only because many grew up watching and playing the game, but because many of them particularly recent immigrants continue to follow the teams and leagues of their home countries.

Its mix of Latino-focused programming has helped Fox Sports World Espa & #324;ol grow to nearly 2.3 million subscribers in the United States by the beginning of this year. That's up 39 percent from a year earlier, Casey said.

In the Los Angeles market, Fox Sports World Espa & #324;ol reaches 780,000 homes through MediaOne, Century Communications, Charter Communications, Cox Communications and other cable companies. Those cable providers do not broadcast the channel to all subscribers, only to those in Latino neighborhoods. Casey hopes to add another 480,000 to 500,000 national subscribers by the end of the year.

The network's growth and the access it offers have attracted a number of big-name advertisers, including Anheuser Busch, Carl's Jr., Pacific Bell, Warner Bros., Toyota, Denny's and Gatorade.

Tony Aguilar, associate media director at L.A.-based ad agency La Agencia de Orci & Asociados, which buys ad time on the network for American Honda Motor Co. Inc. and others, said advertisers find the network useful because it's fairly cheap. Telemundo and Univision, because of their large audience size, cost more.

"We are able to afford a lot of frequency with the network something that you cannot afford with broadcast," he said. "One tends to have a bigger amount of activity with these cable networks."

Starting June 29, Fox Sports World Espa & #324;ol will be even more affordable, at least for local advertisers. That's when about half of the network's commercial time or five or six minutes an hour will be sold on strictly a local basis. If the experiment is successful, local spots will be available in other markets with large Latino populations, such as Miami.

Meanwhile, competition is lurking. Chicago-based Playboy Enterprises announced last week that it will launch Playboy TV en Espa & #324;ol, a 24-hour Spanish-language cable channel, this summer. Casey sees the launch as a positive for his network proof that there is growing recognition of the young male Latino market.

"From a programming standpoint, it is very similar," he said. "I would not mind being next to them on the dial or in the same digital package, if that is the case. It's the same audience."

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