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Fox’s Cups Runneth Over

7/13/2007 8:00 PM Eastern

Exclusive rights to two popular soccer tournaments, Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, have helped make Fox Sports en Español the leading Spanish-language sports network in ratings and number of Hispanic households. The network is available in 4.5 million Hispanic households and a total of 13.2 million U.S. households. FSE executive vice president and general manager David Sternberg, who, at 39, also heads Fox Soccer Channel, spoke with Multichannel News contributor Luis Clemens about the competitive landscape and sports programming. An edited transcript follows:

MCN:What is the competitive landscape for Spanish-language sports programming for broadcast and cable?

David Sternberg:There are a lot of players and more all the time. There is a demonstrated interest in the Latino community in sports programming. We like to think we picked up on that interest before a lot of others, certainly on the cable and satellite side of the business. It is definitely a growing market that has attracted a lot of new entrants.

MCN: How do you build a brand as a sports programmer when fans are watching because of the matches and not because of the network?

DS:It is tough. One way to build a brand is to create a very close identification with exclusive properties. And that is something we have done with Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana. Those two tournaments would basically carry us through the full year with live soccer programming. They are 100% exclusive to our network. We don’t share them with anybody.

A second way is to develop non-event programming that keeps people coming back. We feel like we have three great franchises. One is Diario Fox Sports, a nightly newscast from our studios in Mexico City that covers the gamut of Latin American and international sports.

The second is Jorge Ramos En Vivo, a twice weekly call-in show with Jorge Ramos, which is a very highly-rated program and always generates a lot of discussion and viewer participation.

And the third is our awards show franchise, Premios Fox Sports, the only show of its kind that recognizes the best Latin American athletes of the year. It isn’t just one night of programming but a year-long branding exercise that allows our users to get involved by casting votes and through stunts that showcase the best moments in a given year.

MCN: Were you surprised when the broadcast ratings for the Gold Cup tournament eclipsed those for the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup?

DS: Not at all. Soccer is definitely poised to supplant hockey as the No. 4 major team sport in this country. You can already see some indications of that happening.

One is TV ratings and another is live attendance. MLS attendance is either on a par or slightly above average NHL attendance.

If you look at the country as a whole as opposed to specific regions where hockey may be strong, you just don’t see the same level of awareness of that sport as you do with soccer. Those are all signs of soccer growing more popular.

MCN: How’s the Upfront going?

DS: We are in the thick of it. Our read is that it is very healthy this year. The single sample will open up a lot of opportunities with advertisers and agencies that may have been reluctant to dip their toes in the Hispanic market.

The categories that target Hispanics are responding. I think it is going to be another good year of solid growth probably in the low double digits.

MCN: FSE’s Web site was rather unceremoniously dumped by Yahoo last year. Have your online sales and traffic recovered?

DS: I think we’ve recovered and surpassed where we were. The deal we did with Microsoft in 2006 is by far the best option we could have gone for.

They have an outstanding sales force. The site itself is doing phenomenal traffic. And it gives us a kind of reach and exposure that Yahoo was unable to give us. I don’t think the Hispanic platform was as high a priority for them as it is for MSN.

MCN: What about broadband? Are you transmitting matches online?

DS: We did an experiment in 2006 with Copa Libertadores. We took a package of about 12 simultaneous games and did a broadband pay-per-view offering. It was moderately successful. This past year we were able to reduce the number of overlaps in that tournament so we decided to keep all the matches on the network.

MCN: If 80% of GolTV is reportedly worth $200 million, then how much is FSE worth?

DS: Billions. [Laughter.] It is kind of funny. Obviously, that transaction has since fallen through. I am not sure that is really a valid comp but somebody was apparently willing to pay it. That valuation does point to the attractiveness of these assets.

The fact is GolTV is a smaller network than us. They have fewer Hispanic households. To my knowledge, they haven’t tipped the break-even point yet. And yet for them to get that kind of valuation clearly says this business that we are operating is tremendously valuable.

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