Sportscaster Andrés Cantor's career has been marked by goals. Literally.
He is known as the broadcaster who roars "Goooal!" to call points during soccer broadcasts on Spanish-language TV. He's not just a celebrity among Spanish-speaking Latinos but also among English speakers in the U.S. who barely follow the sport.
Cantor has sounded his clarion call on the "Late Show With David Letterman," "Live With Regis and Kathy Lee," the "Muppets Most Wanted" movie and a TV commercial rolling out this week for Volkswagen. He has also been credited with helping turn the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off this week in Brazil, into a popular draw in the U.S. — and an increasingly profitable business.
"American audiences respond to great sporting events, and this is the world's greatest sporting event," Cantor said in an interview.
Cantor will be back in the booth this week for his eighth consecutive World Cup. The native of Argentina — who attended high school in the Los Angeles suburb of San Marino — has called the play-by-play during every World Cup tournament since 1990 — first in Spanish-language television and now for radio.
But he is much more than a play-by-play guy.
Fourteen years ago Cantor walked away from his prominent perch as a sportscaster for Spanish-language giant Univision Communications. He took an on-air job with the much smaller Telemundo network, which allowed him to build an independent radio syndication company that he co-owns called Fútbol De Primera (Soccer First) and that broadcasts soccer games on the radio.
"That was a keystone moment," Cantor said. "I was focused on becoming an entrepreneur — not just a television talent."
Cantor and his business partner, fellow Argentinian Alejandro Gutman, scored the Spanish-language radio rights to many of the most popular soccer matches, including the World Cup.
The first World Cup the pair produced for radio was in 2002. But they lost money on the production because the ad market was stalled in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
They remained confident their gamble eventually would pay off. Soccer, they figured, would increase in popularity among mainstream audiences and advertisers. They also were banking on the growing importance of Latinos, a group that now exceeds 50 million people in the U.S. with an estimated spending power of $1.3 trillion.
Sure enough, this year's World Cup is expected to shatter audience records in the U.S. The Latino population continues to grow, and more non-Latinos appreciate the sport after spending weekends at their children's soccer games. ESPN is set to provide television and radio coverage in English, while Univision has Spanish-language TV rights.
Millions of Latinos are expected to tune in to Cantor's radio broadcasts, carried on 115 stations, including Entravision Communication's KLYY-FM (97.5) and KDLD-FM (103.1) in the Los Angeles area. Some soccer fans lower the volume on their TV sets so they can listen to Cantor's commentary on the radio.
Cantor's World Cup broadcasts four years ago attracted an average of 1.5 million listeners in Los Angeles.
"Andrés is one of the most influential, recognizable and respected soccer commentators in the world," said Jorge Hidalgo, Telemundo's executive vice president of sports. "His knowledge of the game, the excitement he brings, and, of course, his signature call, propels his popularity."
Pantelion Films Chairman Jim McNamara remembers the day when Cantor joined Telemundo, and walked with a group of executives through Manhattan. "Andrés was instantly recognized by Hispanics," said McNamara, the former president of Telemundo. "It was the equivalent of walking down Fifth Avenue with Tom Cruise."
Cantor, 51, was born in Buenos Aires but political turmoil in Argentina prompted his parents in the 1970s to move to Sacramento. Cantor, then 13, didn't want to leave his home country.
"I was a soccer-crazy teen, and there was no soccer," Cantor said. "And I did not speak a word of English. It was culture shock at its best."
Cantor returned to Argentina for a year, but rejoined his family when they moved to San Marino. His father was a prominent physician at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, and his mother is a psychologist. (Both still live in L.A.)
Cantor did better in Southern California.
He was sports editor of the San Marino High School newspaper, and played on the soccer team. He said he was the only player who spoke Spanish so he would startle Latinos on opposing teams because he understood what they were saying. He attended USC in the early 1980s, and a few years later landed a job calling soccer matches for Univision.
Cantor is quick to say he didn't invent the "Goooal!" call, which he heard as a boy listening to radio announcer Jose Maria Muñoz in Argentina. But he brought it to the U.S.
Broadcasters this year will benefit from the World Cup location, Brazil, which is in a time zone compatible with much of the U.S. Matches will unfold during the day on the West Coast, a potential advantage for Cantor's company because many workers might have easier access to radio than television.
Cantor's company has sold more than 90% of its commercial time for the monthlong tournament. Prominent advertisers include Subway, Home Depot, Chase bank, T-Mobile, O'Reilly Auto Parts, State Farm Insurance and car makers Dodge, Ford, Honda and Nissan.
Cantor and 25 staff members have traveled to Brazil to cover the action. Their morning roundup show will be broadcast in nearly a dozen countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Australia.
It is a long way from the shoestring operation that began in 1989 with Gutman reciting soccer scores from Latin America during a weekly show on a San Francisco radio station.
"They have invested a lot of money in bringing best-in-class coverage of the World Cup," said Adam R. Jacobson, a Latino media consultant.
Cantor declined to reveal how much his firm pays for World Cup rights. But he is proud that FIFA continues to award the contract to his company even as huge media companies bid up the rights.
"We were the only incumbent broadcaster in the U.S. that was able to retain the rights for the next two cycles," Cantor said.
For the next two tournament cycles, with the men's championships in 2018 and 2022, Fox Sports outbid ESPN. And Univision lost out to arch-rival Telemundo, which agreed to pay nearly $600 million for the next two tournaments. That is nearly double the amount that Univision paid for its current package.
Cantor, said Telemundo's Hidalgo, was instrumental in helping Telemundo land the rights. And in four years, the Emmy-winning announcer will be back on TV calling the World Cup.