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Column: Telemundo is going all in on World Cup coverage

As Ray Warren makes his way to his second-floor office in Telemundo’s South Florida headquarters each morning, he passes a giant digital clock counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the start of the World Cup half a world away in Moscow.

That clock on Sunday will show less than 11 days remain before kickoff — not that Warren really needs the reminder. He’s been counting down the days on his own since leaving NBC to become president of Telemundo Sports in 2016, just in time to head the biggest project the Spanish-language network has ever attempted.

Telemundo will televise all 64 World Cup games live from Russia, devoting 500 broadcast hours, a staff of about 600 and an open checkbook to the month-long soccer tournament.

“This is our bread and butter,” said lead announcer Andres Cantor, who will be working his ninth World Cup. “And obviously we will do it the right way.”

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It’s a daunting challenge, one NBCUniversal, Telemundo’s parent company, paid $600 million in rights fees to accept nearly seven years ago. It’s one that could be helped, rather than hurt, by the failure of the U.S. to qualify.

The American team’s absence has led Fox Sports to dial back its spending on English-language coverage of the tournament. But with the 32-team World Cup field featuring Mexico — which claims 40 million fans in the U.S. — and seven other Latin America teams, Telemundo has doubled down on its commitment.

The aim isn’t just to capture the Spanish-dominant audience. Telemundo is betting it can draw viewers from Fox through the expertise of announcers like Cantor and a team of analysts that includes former World Cup players Diego Forlan (Uruguay), Teofilo Cubillas (Peru) and Claudio Borghi (Argentina), who will primarily work games involving their former national teams.

“Authentic is a word we use a lot because it means a lot,” Warren said.

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Back in the World Cup sportscaster booth
Legendary Telemundo announcer Andres Cantor will be working his ninth World Cup.
(Cristobal Herrera / Sun Sentinel )

Cantor, a four-time Emmy winner whose signature goal-scoring call has defined his career, agreed.

“We’re going to reach a vast number of people that are going to watch soccer in Spanish because they know we have a different feel,” he said. “I want to brag and say that we do it better.

“Hopefully a lot of people will prefer our style. Passion goes beyond language. And I know that we will have a lot of crossover people.”

In an effort to attract those crossover viewers, Telemundo will promote its coverage on NBC. But language and style aren’t the only things separating Telemundo from Fox. While Fox will air a record 38 games on English-language broadcast television, the other 26 will be shown on cable. Telemundo is putting 56 games on its main channel.

Only two of Fox’s six broadcast teams are traveling to Russia; all four of Telemundo’s will be there. While Fox broadcasters will describe 30 games off a satellite feed from its West L.A. studios, Telemundo announcers will call approximately three-quarters of the games from the stadium.

“Nobody does the World Series from a studio. Nobody does the Super Bowl from a studio,” said Juan Pablo Angel, a former Galaxy, Chivas USA and Colombian national team player who is part of Telemundo’s broadcast team. “Any knowledgeable spectator would like to see the games from the venues.

“It’s a big advantage what we’re doing. That’s why we’re spending so much money.”

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Telemundo is dedicating broadcast hours, too. Warren said Telemundo will devote a 2½-hour window to each of the 64 matches. There also will be hour-long pre- and postgame shows, a prime-time wrap-up show each night — a first for a U.S. broadcast network — plus additional coverage on Telemundo’s “Un Nuevo Dia” morning show and on NBC’s “Today” show. An additional 1,000 hours of digital content will be available.

And if you don’t want to wake up early enough for any of that — most games kickoff by 8 a.m. Pacific time — every match will be rerun in the evening on cable channel Universo.

Spreading so much content over so many platforms means Telemundo’s success or failure will be measured by more factors than just Nielsen ratings.

“If enough people go to bed with their TVs set to Telemundo, they’re going to wake up and, guess what? — here’s the World Cup,” Warren said. “So they do another 24 hours on Telemundo. We’re excited about that.”

Warren will be in Russia by the time the clock outside his office hits zero and the moment he’s spent 21 months planning for has arrived. He can hardly wait to get started.

“If you want to watch the World Cup,” he said, “there’s only one place to be.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

@kbaxter11

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