Lindsay Casinelli worked her first Super Bowl when she moved to the United States from Venezuela at the age of 18.
She was stunned at how quiet the streets in San Jose, California were while she was out delivering pizzas. That’s when she knew the magnitude of the game.
Casinelli is now working at Super Bowl 58 as a reporter for Univision when it broadcasts the matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs in Spanish. This is the first year the 78-year-old media company will broadcast the big game.
“It’s incredible for me that so many years later, I’m gonna have the opportunity to be in the first historic transmission for the Super Bowl,” she told USA TODAY Sports.
— LINDSAY CASINELLI (@LINDSAYDEPORTES) January 29, 2024
Univision has humble roots as the first Hispanic-owned, Spanish-speaking radio station in the country. In 2022, it was the No. 1 broadcast network in weeknight primetime, beating out ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox with an average audience of 1.6 million viewers. The Spanish-language channel has become a household name because of its coverage of elections, entertainment and other large sports events like the World Cup, all with flavor and energy that is signature to Latin American and Hispanic cultures.
Olek Loewenstein, Univision’s president of global sports business, said the “planets aligned” for Univision to host its first Super Bowl, which will be a partnership with CBS. The Spanish-language network’s goals aligned with those of the NFL, including growing the sport’s audience and expanding the ways Univision connects with its community.
“For us, the perfect way to do that is through the big moments in sports,” he said, “and you can’t talk about big moments in sports in the U.S. without being part of the big game.”
The NFL has struggled in the past to connect with its Latin American and Hispanic fanbase. Its “ÑFL” campaign struck a sour note with many and the Washington Commanders released the only head coach of Latin American descent when they fired Ron Rivera last month. Dave Canales, who is Mexican-American, was named the head coach of the Carolina Panthers weeks later. The league has the International Player Pathway program to encourage players from outside the United States to join the league.
Telemundo, a member of NBCUniversal, was the first broadcast network to air the Super Bowl in Spanish in 2022. Their broadcast averaged 1.9 million viewers, per NBC Sports. The next year, the broadcast was hosted by Fox Deportes and saw a viewership of 951,000 fans, according to Fox Sports.
Loewenstein said what makes Univsion unique is that the company is its own entity and has a completely independent editorial process. He also noted how Univision’s intention to connect organically with each members of its community separates it from SAP audio slapped over an English language broadcast.
“We believe in our goal for this,” Loewenstein said. “Our absolute objective for this game is to deliver the most-watched Super Bowl in Spanish language history in the U.S. Period.”
Univision will technically have two broadcasts: one in the United States and it will continue its Televisa broadcast in Mexico.
This will be the first Super Bowl for Jorge Ramos, who is a household name as a news reporter for Univision. Guillermo “Memo” Schutz and Ramses Sandoval will be calling the game. It’s Sandoval’s first Super Bowl as well. Even though Schutz has covered the Super Bowl for the Televisa Mexico broadcast and Sandoval has covered large sports events like the World Cup, NBA Finals and Messi’s first game with Inter Miami CF, both felt the magnitude of calling the Super Bowl.
“You can make a case it’s one of the biggest things I’ve ever done,” Schutz said. “We’re preparing as it’s the most important thing I’ve ever done.”
“I can tell you from the inside the importance that this company is taking this event with. It’s really, it’s massive. It’s impressive. As it should be, it’s the Super Bowl,” Sandoval said. “Having the opportunity and being on the air as the play-by-play caller is a massive responsibility. . . . The amount of people that are watching you and are listening to you, I don’t take that responsibility lightly. It’s very exciting.”
Univision is gathering a well-rounded team of experts to meet its audience at all entry points. Many in the Hispanic and Latin American community, where soccer is king, might not know the fundamentals of the game, so the team is preparing content to help explain what’s going on. But there are also those born in the United States whose parents bought them NFL jerseys at birth. So the team is mindful of connecting with all points on the spectrum of American football knowledge.
“Some folks don’t understand the game, the language, but also, it’s an excuse to be together,” Univision’s senior vice president of live events Miguel Angel Garcia said. “One of the most important things that we were planning since the beginning is how do we put together a Super Bowl for everyone at home watching?”There are a few players in the Super Bowl with Latin American heritage, including 49ers linebacker Fred Warner and defensive lineman Jon Feliciano.
Casinelli said she appreciates the underdog stories of Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco and San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy.
And Sandoval said he’s looking forward to Usher playing the halftime show because he remembers “Yeah!” being played at his senior prom.
“We Latinos always look for connections,” Schutz said. “… We love football, we love connections and we’re going to find it in the Super Bowl.”
Besides Schutz and Sandoval, flag football champion Diana Flores from Mexico and Super Bowl-winning kicker Martín Gramática, who hails from Argentina, will assist with coverage. Ramos and Casinelli will be hosting pre-game coverage from Caesars Palace. The Super Bowl being in Las Vegas for the first time offers more opportunity to connect fans with a good time.
🤩Este 11 de febrero vamos con ofensiva, defensiva y equipo especial al #SBEnUnivision 💥🏈
— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) February 5, 2024
Univision’s brand identity of celebrating entertainment, sports and culture blends right in with the crossover the Super Bowl is known for. Covering a superstar like Taylor Swift, whose relationship with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has boosted viewership among young women, will be nothing new to the team, who covers the love life of Jennifer Lopez and highlighted former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s relationship with singer Jessica Simpson.
“For us, it’s equally important. It’s always been equally important for Hispanics,” Loewenstein said.
Casinelli, who is a soccer mom, said having kids helped her understand the importance of the human element of covering sports. She hopes to bring that perspective to those who turn to Univision for comfort just like she did.
“At this moment of my life, it’s more of a life lesson that I want to share with my kids and that I share with my family,” she said, “because this is a personal goal, not to cover the Super Bowl but to be able to represent the company that means so much for so many immigrants when we come to this country.”
With immigration a controversial topic during an election year and inflation increasing every day, Univision has an opportunity to offer something more than a sports spectacle.
“Through sports, we can heal so many wounds,” Casinelli said. “That’s why I think for Univision it’s a great responsibility. There are people out there that are watching our station, that our watching our channel, that they are very tired, that they are away from their family, or maybe they’re going through financial hardship. And we can be the balm, the cream for the wounds. I take that with a lot of pride. That’s why for me, it’s so much more than a game.”
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