What if you wanted to watch sports on TV, but the play-by-play was made in a language you didn’t understand? Yes, secondary audio channels offer translation, but this doesn’t capture excitement or nuance in the same way that listening to the late John Madden’s colorful comments about “turf in the helmet” during Sunday NFL broadcasts brought home the intensity and physicality of the game.
Language barriers pose obstacles for fans of certain televised events, and the Super Bowl, the biggest sports contest in the United States, is no exception.
As demographics shift — the U.S. has the second-largest population of Spanish speakers in the world after Mexico — major networks have begun taking steps to close the language gap. Telemundo Deportes made history in 2022 as the first Spanish-language network to broadcast the Super Bowl in the U.S., followed by Fox Deportes in 2023. This week, TelevisaUnivision — which runs the largest TV network in the U.S. for Spanish-speaking viewers — announced a deal with the NFL and CBS to continue the tradition at Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas in 2024.
Why is broadcasting the Super Bowl in Spanish important? Communication, culture, and commerce.
The Super Bowl is more than a game. It’s a cultural phenomenon — the game! the ads! the halftime show! — and as such, the most-watched sporting event in the nation. A recent study showed that nearly three-quarters of Americans identify as football fans, that 83% bond with family and friends over football, and that watching football helped 82% of respondents learn about teamwork, among other things. More than 31 million Hispanic Americans are fans of NFL football, according to a Cronkite News report.
If you tuned in to the Super Bowl as an English-only speaker, and everything was in Mandarin (or Finnish, or Papiamento), it would be confusing. Watching in your native language is just more fun. Making it more fun for fans among the 41 million Spanish speakers in the U.S. (about 13% of the population) is a sign that TV networks recognize their viewers come from a variety of cultural backgrounds and that it’s important to communicate with them effectively.
At the same time, the approach helps to create a sense of belonging. Feeling like you belong builds unity. It also builds loyalty — to the sport, the NFL teams, and the event. And that’s important for the long term, because by 2050, one out of every three people in the U.S. will speak Spanish, including bilingual English-speakers, according to Forbes.
It’s culturally sensitive to communicate with audiences in their preferred languages. It’s also financially savvy. TV networks reach a broader audience; advertisers get their messages out in words that viewers understand. No flag, no foul. It’s a win-win.
Offering a Spanish-language Super Bowl broadcast may be important, generationally, too, said Nacho Mayer, president of U.S. networks at TelevisaUnivision, in a report by Marketing Brew news. Mayer said that TelevisaUnivision is the No. 1 network for Gen Z. (Gen Z, consisting of people ages 8 to 23, is 20% of the U.S. population). “We have always known that our community is a sleeping giant,” Mayer was quoted as saying. “Well, guess what? We’re awake, and the world is finally ready for us.”
Points for TelevisaUnivision. Or, as you might hear during Super Bowl LVIII next year, "¡Anotación!" That’s Spanish for “touchdown!”
Carolyne Zinko is the editorial director of Alphy.
Reflect AI by Alphy is a SaaS platform that flags harmful language, including topic, tone, “isms,” confidence, mindset and appropriateness. Our AI language classifier detects risks in emails prior to send, flags conversational missteps (and successes) in video meetings in real-time, and upskills individual communication with targeted and personalized microlearning.