Why Univision’s Champions League live streaming is behind a paywall on ViX+ while some games are on free TV

Prior to the start of the NFL season, media across the country released viewer guides on how to watch NFL games this season.

One from the Athletic attracted attention because of how complex it was: 15 lines of color-coded text spanning four days of the week, seven networks, the regular season, and the playoffs.

It wasn’t for football fans. For decades, fans of world football have been accustomed to trawling every corner of the internet to watch games and subscribing to countless streaming services to catch all the action.

But a network has long excelled at not letting fans jump through all those hoops. Univision spent decades building its brand among Spanish speakers by bringing big games to its flagship network, from Mexico’s Liga MX to Major League Soccer to the UEFA Champions League – and most notably the World Cup, until Telemundo bought the rights from Comcast bought in 2015.

Recently, Univision’s coverage has also attracted some English speakers, particularly those who were tired of paying for cable and streaming packages at the same time. Watching one big game wirelessly, another on cable or satellite TV, and the rest online with a pay TV login could be such a big savings that it’s worth not knowing every word the broadcasters are saying.

A few months ago, Univision changed course. It took its free streaming platform ViX (formerly known as PrendeTV) and added a paid subscription tier, ViX+, for $6.99 per month.

Most of the network’s football content immediately went behind this paywall: many Mexican league matches for both men and women, most of the men’s Champions League matches and action from Concacaf tournaments, the UEFA Nations League and the national leagues of Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia Peru.

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There are still some live matches on the free tier of ViX, such as the Revelations Cup Men’s Under-20 Tournament currently taking place in Mexico. (The US squad has Unions Paxten Aaronson, Brandan Craig, Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan.) But Argentina’s iconic rivalry game between Boca Juniors and River Plate was on ViX+ earlier this month, meaning fans had to pay to see it to see whether in English (on CBS’ Paramount+) or Spanish.

What prompted Univision — or more specifically, Univision’s Mexican parent company, Televisa — to go in this direction?

The answer doesn’t just have to do with football.

“Hispanics in the US overestimate mobile device usage,” Olek Loewenstein, sports president of combined entity TelevisaUnivion, told The Inquirer.

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There is also a lot of research behind this point. Pew showed it in 2016 and 2021, Nielsen in 2018, and Horowitz last July.

“People have gotten used to using streaming platforms,” ​​Loewenstein said. “I think now people are comfortable downloading apps, people are now comfortable putting their credit card information and personal information on some of these streaming platforms, which wasn’t the case in the past.”

This applies to both Spanish-speaking football fans and English-speaking ones. Loewenstein spoke on the subject like someone who has had some personal experience.

“People would be drawn to official platforms if they were available, but if they weren’t, everyone finds a way through piracy to get to RojaDirecta [one of the most popular illegal soccer streaming sites], some of those things,” he said. “So people are more used to consuming sports on digital platforms than we think.”

It helps that ViX isn’t just a sports service. Thanks to Televisa ownership, there are many films and TV shows from Mexico and across America. This content is available worldwide, although as always, sports offerings vary from country to country.

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Waiting for a subscription streaming platform to launch has also allowed Univision to learn lessons from the successes and failures of other networks.

“Yes, we’re late, and there are so many players in the ecosystem,” Loewenstein said. “What we’ve realized is what a lot of these streamers are now starting to realize and catching up to [over]. We wanted to launch a single product with two experiences: an ad-supported experience and a self-supported one [subscription] Experience. And that was our design from the start.”

(Fox Sports has followed the same logic by not launching any subscription platform at all. Its portal on Tubi for online coverage of the fall Men’s World Cup, including full game replays after the final whistle, is free with advertising.)

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When it comes to Univision’s men’s UEFA Champions League coverage specifically, there’s good news for fans. As with CBS’ English language coverage of Paramount+, every game is on ViX in some form. So you don’t need cable or satellite TV to watch these games. And unlike Paramount+, ViX offers a Champions League game of the week for free with registration.

But that’s not the case for the biggest ticketing item, Liga MX — not only is it the most popular soccer league on Univision, it’s the most popular soccer league on any US media platform, regardless of language or how fans watch. Year after year, Mexican games run the Premier League, MLS, Champions League and everything else.

And the reporting has a catch: the broadcasting rights are not sold by the league, but by each club. So Univision has to go to Necaxa or Puebla and convince them to sell Friday night games running on ViX+ while bigger clubs like Tigres and América play on Big Univision on Saturday.

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How did Loewenstein bring the case? First, by noting that Univision can broadcast more games overall with ViX than it used to. The network now broadcasts 100 Liga MX games on linear TV and 68 exclusively on ViX.

“We didn’t take games from the platforms we currently have,” he said.

ViX also allows Univision to significantly expand its coverage of Mexico’s second division men’s Liga de Expansión and Liga MX Femenil, the women’s top division whose popularity and star power is rapidly growing.

One thing hasn’t changed, however, and that’s what has helped Loewenstein continue to close sales.

“Their answer is: Show me the money,” he said. “Their answer is: ‘Given equal terms between bidders A and B, I will choose the one that offers me more distribution. But the first part of this answer is the important one — all things being equal.’”

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Consumers don’t care if their money goes through a cable company first or straight into Univision’s pockets. But for the units Univision pays, all that matters is how many numbers are on the checks.

“Everyone is looking for distribution, and everyone likes to talk about how important it is for them to reach as many people as possible and grow the brand,” says Loewenstein. “To be honest, I still haven’t had a single rights negotiation where money wasn’t the main factor in the discussion.”

This is often true regardless of what language you speak.

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