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.