SVG Sit-Down: Fox Deportes’ Sergio Verdu Aims To Synergize Technologies With Fox Sports

Veteran president of production joined the network in March after years at ESPN

The first and longest-running Spanish-language sports network in the U.S. is nearing a milestone.

Next month, Fox Deportes will have been on the air for a quarter of a century, and the network is running as strong as ever. Based in Los Angles, the domestic Spanish-language broadcaster is home to a bevy of major properties: Liga MX (the top-flight soccer league in Mexico), NFL, MLB, Premier Boxing Champions, Major League Soccer, and the WWE.

Fox Deportes’ Sergio Verdu: “One of my first priorities — and it’s happening right now — is to get as close as we can be with Fox Sports, especially in technology.”

This year, the network made a key addition to its executive ranks, bringing in Sergio Verdu from ESPN as president of production. A veteran of the industry for more than two decades, Verdu was most recently director, production development and new projects, for ESPN and brings with him loads of broadcast experience at the global level. He played a key role in ESPN’s carriage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup for Sub-Saharan Africa and helped craft a global strategy to grow UFC viewership.

Since joining Fox Deportes, Verdu has moved back west; been onsite for  the MLB All-Star Game, the MLB at Field of Dreams event, and last weekend’s Fury-Wilder III fight; and gained his footing in his new role.

As his new network prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary next month, SVG sat down with Verdu to discuss his acclimating to the role, growing technologically alongside Fox Sports, and what excites him about this new opportunity.

What has it been like to join the team at Fox Deportes?
I’ll be honest, it has definitely been a challenge. I had all of this excitement [when I got started], and COVID made it difficult to be together with the team. That was hard for me. There were a lot of Zooms.

I have to say, I was really, happily surprised about the culture at Fox. I report to Mike Davies [SVP, field operations, Fox Sports], and he has been fantastic. He has introduced me to all the key executives at Fox Sports and is helping integrate me. That helps me see how my department fits into the larger, 360-degree view of what’s going on when I’m not there in the day-to-day. Now that I’m [in L.A.], it feels the way it should. People stop by your office, and everyone wants to talk to you. That understanding of how Fox operates has been absolutely fantastic. I know so many executives here already, and that tells you a lot.

One of my first priorities — and it’s happening right now — is to get as close as we can be with Fox Sports, especially in technology. Fox Deportes is in a different building from Fox Sports, and COVID certainly did not help us when it came to linking technologies. I’m happy to say that today we have a plan in place to upgrade our facilities and be completely in sync with what Fox Sports is doing from a technology perspective.

The open approach that those guys — Mike and [Fox Sports VP, Field Operations and Engineering] Brad Cheney — are giving us and [Fox Deportes Director, Production] Ruben Rocha, who is our guru, is a fantastic thing. We are, right now, so close to everything that they do.

LigaMX is a massive property for you, and I feel like the average sports-media person in the U.S. doesn’t get how big Mexican sports can be for the Spanish-language sports viewer in this country. What are the big projects and top priorities for you as you join the family?
LigaMX is the number-one property for us. To your point, I don’t think people understand the scope of some of those events in the Hispanic market and how that market consumes TV. We were lucky that one of the teams that we have the rights for, Santos Laguna, got to the final last season. We got 900,000 viewers for the first leg of that. When you share those numbers with people, they don’t understand the scope of those ratings. This is a huge event. In the U.S.! There’s a market from an advertising point of view and a marketing point of view, and we’ve working to continue to improve that.

Rights are different in Mexico. In the U.S., the NFL may control the rights to all of their clubs. LigaMX is split up by teams. Every time there are rights on the market, we need to be available to bid for them. When you work with those teams, you become more than a broadcast partner. We become full partners, meaning how can we help each other? How can we help the teams with their marketing campaigns in the U.S.?

It’s not just paying for the signal. We have a much deeper relationship with them, and I think that’s good for the broadcast. We get more access. For one of our teams, our broadcast booth converts to a mini studio, and, when there aren’t matches, we can use that studio to create all kinds of content with a view of the stadium behind us.

Is there anything new in particular that you and your team are working on?
Yes, absolutely. In our productions of LigaMX, we were able to introduce our own version of the Megaladon [mirrorless] camera. We were the first to do it in the soccer world [in the U.S.]. That’s something that I am so proud of.  We are also using a drone on those games as well.

In terms of our building at 1440 [S. Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles], I’m super happy to share that we are going to be redoing our studios in this fiscal year. The good part of that is, Fox Sports is also working on their studios at Pico, and we are taking advantage of those designs and that technology and applying that to our building. That’s a great project of synergy between those two buildings. I was able to see their footprints and designs. We’re, of course, just a bit smaller, but the design is there, and we can take advantage of that. We hope that comes around sometime in March-May.

We’re also going to be using the EVS technology that Fox Sports is working into their system [the Fox Sports Vault]. We want to integrate with that. As you can see, whatever main Fox Sports is doing, we want to be right there and be an extension of them.

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