Chivas USA has signed a deal with local TV station KAZA-54 to broadcast eight games in Spanish during the current season, filling in a potentially large coverage gap for the soccer club.

The team was founded in 2004 by Mexican businessman Jorge Vergara who also owns Mexico's popular Chivas club as a way to capture the interest of Mexican-American soccer fans.

Chivas USA had a local Spanish-language broadcast partner during its first two seasons, but in 2007 the team was not able to reach an agreement with a Spanish-language station. KAZA-54 broadcast Chivas USA games last season and after reviewing the ratings decided to renew the contract for 2009. The station also will produce a half-hour weekly show focusing on the team.

The deal will complement Chivas USA's 18 game English-language broadcasting package with Fox Sports West, which has rights to broadcast the team's playoff games.

"Between KAZA and FS West, we now have the most comprehensive television package in our five-year history," said team spokesman Keegan Pierce. "We are happy to be able to offer the broadcasts for those people who cannot make it out to Home Depot Center."

KAZA-54 is an L.A. news, sports and entertainment station owned by Pappas Telecasting Cos., a Visalia-based Spanish-language broadcast network that owns 27 stations nationwide and claims to reach one-third of all U.S. Hispanic households.

Despite being overshadowed in L.A.'s English media market by the Los Angeles Galaxy and British superstar David Beckham, Chivas USA has grown in popularity. The team, which has made the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, had an average announced attendance of 14,914 through its first three home games. That's an improvement of 16 percent versus the same period last year.

Chivas USA is continuing to build grassroots interest. This season it is holding some practices in parks and other community fields rather than at Home Depot Center. The team also conducts soccer clinics at schools.

The team's steady growth in popularity has mirrored that of Major League Soccer. This year the league added its 15th franchise in Seattle and plans to expand to 16 teams by 2010. The Seattle franchise has quickly become one of the most popular teams in the league, registering the highest average attendance among MLS franchises this season.

In contrast, the Galaxy has suffered recently as David Beckham isn't scheduled to return to the team until mid-July after he finishes a stint with AC Milan, where he is on loan to the Italian club. Beckham also has announced he will leave the Galaxy at the end of the season.

Although the Galaxy has outdrawn Chivas USA so far with an announced average of 19,346 fans through its first three home games, that average is 18 percent off from last year. The Galaxy and Chivas USA are the third and fifth highest draws in Major League Soccer, respectively.

House Call

The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed USC University Hospital as its official hospital for the 2009 season. The move comes after Centinela Freeman Medical Center did not renew its sponsorship in a cost-cutting measure.

USC University Hospital operates as a subsidiary of Tenet Healthcare Corp., but the company signed a nonbinding letter of intent to sell the hospital to USC.

As part of the sponsorship, current and former players will visit patients at the 411-bed hospital. Visits will be featured on the Dodgers video on-demand channel on Time Warner Cable. The hospital also will have signage on the outfield wall during the regular season and receive radio advertising spots during Spanish-language broadcasts.

Fit Crew

Herbalife Ltd. is venturing into new marketing territory: auto racing.

For years the downtown L.A.-based diet and nutritional supplement company has signed sponsorship agreements with sports leagues and teams such as the Los Angeles Galaxy in order to associate its brand with healthy activities.

Now, it's jumping on the IndyCar Racing Series bandwagon.

Herbalife will become the official "nutritional partner" of Venezuelan driver E.J. Viso, who says he has been using Herbalife products for the past 10 years. The deal puts Herbalife's logo on the driver's helmet.

His debut with the logo did not work out as well as he had hoped at this month's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Viso crashed out of the race and finished last.

While Viso hopes to improve on the finish at next month's Indy 500, he also has challenged his crew to get in better shape physically.

Under the supervision of Dr. Luigi Gratton of Herbalife, Viso is pushing his pit crew to lose a combined 100 pounds, or the equivalent of four racing tires, over the next seven weeks.

Staff reporter David Nusbaum can be reached at dnusbaum@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 236.

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