Carlos Sanchez, EVP and GM of FOX Deportes, on the First U.S. Spanish-Language Sports Network’s 20th Anniversary

On Friday, Nov. 1, 1996, FOX Deportes launched in the U.S., becoming the country’s first Spanish-language sports network. Today, FOX Deportes celebrates its 20th anniversary and endeavors to serve an ever-evolving audience with a changing appetite for sports.

To learn about what the milestone means to the network and what the future may hold, I spoke with Carlos Sanchez, Executive Vice President and General Manager of FOX Deportes. During our conversation, he talked about how the network has grown along with its audience, how the network has distinguished itself from its competitors, the strength of its social media presence and more.

What does the 20th anniversary of FOX Deportes mean for the network, and what does it mean for you personally?
This milestone for FOX Deportes is the celebration of the company’s accomplishments over the last 20 years. As the first Spanish-language sports network in the U.S., we’ve been able to stay ahead of the game in an ever-changing landscape and in a much more crowded marketplace than when we launched. It’s also about celebrating the great people that have made this network the leader in sports broadcasting for the Hispanic community. It’s really all about the people – we have people who’ve been here the full 20 years, which I think is fantastic and speaks to who we are as a company. For me personally, I’m humbled and have a great sense of pride working with such a great, talented team of passionate individuals.

How has the network changed over the last 20 years to keep pace with changing demographics in the Spanish-speaking audiences that it serves?
The network’s evolution has been on par with its audience over the last 20 years. Part of the success is our ability to provide our audience with relevant content at the right time. It used to be that Hispanic sports fans could only watch soccer and maybe boxing in Spanish. But over time, FOX Deportes has been able to deliver non-traditional Hispanic content such as MLB, NFL, UFC, NASCAR, and golf.

Are there differences and unique aspects to presenting these sports and big events to a Spanish-speaking audience as opposed to an English-speaking one?
There are more similarities than differences. The most important thing to remember is that a sports fan is a sports fan regardless of language. Both audiences want to see the action, excitement, passion and controversies around sports. It is our job to find the stories and content that will captivate our audience and pull on their emotional heartstrings so they feel engaged and identify with the content in their language.

How has FOX Deportes tried to distinguish itself in an environment of increasing competition?
As the original Spanish-language sports network, everything we do is unique because we usually are the first to do it. We were the first to air top-tier events such as the World Series, Super Bowl and Daytona 500, which says a lot about who we are, that we’re willing to take risks. We’re willing to provide our viewers with something that they may have never experienced before, which I think in turn is exciting and talks about the passion that we have for sports in general. We try to hire the best talent who know how to tell the story in a way that connects with our audience, and our commitment drives us to stay ahead of the game in everything that we do.

How would you describe the FOX Deportes brand?
I’m glad you asked that, because we are in the final stages of our rebrand, which we are launching this week tied to the network’s anniversary. Deportes is a strong, edgy brand that stands out in a crowded marketplace. Language might be the connective tissue, but we strive to deliver unparalleled coverage and content that is relevant for our audience.

How closely does your network align itself with other FOX Sports properties, and how much of FOX Deportes’ direction and decisions are informed by things that it sees and hears from its sibling networks?
We fall under the FOX Sports umbrella, so we work closely with our colleagues there to create synergies and leverage properties and assets. And, while we share many properties, we also have the freedom as a network to expand our portfolio as needed to satisfy the appetites of our viewers.

Looking to the future, what aspects of FOX Deportes do you think have the most room for growth and opportunity?
This is probably an answer that all networks would give, but I believe our biggest room for growth and opportunity is still in digital. The Hispanic market over-indexes on all things digital, providing opportunity for growth. We’re still exploring the best ways to monetize the opportunity, which is not an easy task since it’s so competitive.

How has FOX Deportes leveraged digital channels to reach audiences so far?
We are No. 1 in terms of social media following. If you take all of our Spanish-language competitors combined, we still have about 25 percent more followers. When you look at sports social media followings in general, regardless of language, we’re actually No. 2 right behind ESPN. So that talks a lot about our strong engagement and connection to our viewers. It has a lot to do with the talent we have, the team of professionals that knows which sports to talk about and how to talk about the sports in a way that’s going to get our audience to engage with us. In a recent report, FOX Deportes was listed as one of the top 25 most shared brands. Out of all the Spanish sports networks, we were the only one in the top 25. We were also the first Spanish-language partner for Twitter’s Amplify program to distribute social video content on that platform.

Besides the digital aspect, are there other ways in which the network’s Hispanic audience is changing? What do you see as the biggest changes they’re going through right now?
The Hispanic audience is becoming more bilingual, and with that I think it’s also becoming more interested in non-traditional Hispanic sports, such as the NFL. That’s probably the biggest change that we’re dealing with, and because we recognize that, we’ve become very open in our search to find the best synergies with our sibling networks, as you call them. We try to find the best opportunities to take advantage of that. Our network is a Spanish network, so delivering content in Spanish is our priority, but we’re open to having a little bit of English when necessary. Although it’s in English, we’re not afraid to carry that content because we realize that 70 percent of our audience is bilingual. As long as the content is of quality and relevant, we’re OK with not being 100 percent Spanish.

What do you see as the top priorities for the network as it embarks on its next 20 years?
The same things we’ve been doing for the last 20 years, which is evolving with our growing audience. We will continue to listen to our audience and deliver top-level content to keep them engaged and tuning in day after day. On the digital front – we will explore opportunities and partnerships that will raise the bar and deliver content in new and unique ways. We will continue to work hard for our audience and stay ahead of the game while providing them a connection to their roots, heritage, culture, family and tradition.