News

Kicking Things Up a Notch

5/23/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

While most sports fans in the Crescent City were focusing on Game 7 of the NBA playoff series between the hometown New Orleans Hornets and San Antonio Spurs, soccer took center stage at the 2008 Cable Show.

Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports netted U.S. rights deals for the FA Cup, the world’s oldest knockout soccer club competition.

Elsewhere, Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications said it would jump into the video-on-demand arena in 2009, with content including full replays of 2010 FIFA World Cup matches that should prove popular with futbol-loving U.S. Latinos.

The four-year deals Fox Soccer Channel and pay-network Setanta inked with The Football Association, England’s governing body for soccer, essentially gives the networks equal coverage rights to the tourney in the States. The pacts, terms of which were not disclosed, run from 2008-09 through 2011-2012. In addition to live matches, both networks will have rights to ancillary FA programming, including preview and review shows, archival matches and magazine programs, plus an array of digital and mobile rights.

The agreements also include rights to a number of live, exclusive home matches involving England’s national team as it seeks qualification to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, plus international friendlies. First up: the Oct. 11 World Cup qualifier versus Kazakhstan.

The new rights deals commence with both parties simulcasting the FA Community Shield, the annual August match between the reigning FA Cup champion (Portsmouth) and the winner of the Barclays Premier League (Manchester United), England’s top futbol circuit. The agreements also call for FSC and Setanta to simulcast the FA Cup final. In between, the networks will divide the expansive match schedule, with each winding up with a pair of quarterfinal and a semifinal match.

For FSC, the deal marks a renewal, while Setanta — which is carried by DirecTV and Dish Network — gains U.S. rights to FA action for its pay network for the first time. Through another deal, Setanta has secured all of the rights in Canada, where the service launched last summer.

With a host of upsets against the top Barclays Premier League sides, the tournament enjoyed a “renaissance” in 2007-08, according to Setanta Sports International managing director Roger Hall.

“This year’s FA Cup really captured the attention of fans. As a domestic rights partner of the FA back in the UK we will be producing our own coverage of live games to beam into homes in North America,” he said in an interview May 19. “This is an important property for the network and our strategy to continue the transition from a commercial televiser to one more focused on the residential market in North America.”

FSC, under its exclusive four-year contract that expired with Portsmouth’s 1-0 victory over Cardiff May 17, also sublicensed matches to pay-per-view purveyors in the U.S.

Separately, FSC scored English-language rights for the next four years to the CONCACAF Champions League, which kicks off its first competition this August. The 24-team, 56-match tournament, featuring clubs from North and Central America and the Caribbean, including four apiece from the U.S. and Mexico, is modeled after Europe’s Champions League. It succeeds what has been the eight-team Champions Cup event.

“We’re excited about adding this asset to our portfolio,” said FSC executive vice president and general manager David Sternberg. “[Major League Soccer] is one of our core properties and this top flight international competition continues the U.S. domestic league’s integration into the global soccer system.”

For its part, Univision used the Cable Show to announce that it would include full replays of matches from the 2010 World Cup in Africa as a centerpiece of its move into the VOD arena in January. At that point, it will begin making 1,000 hours of content, spanning news, sports, movies, music shows, lifestyle and reality fare, available to subscribers.

Tonia O’Connor, executive vice president of distribution sales and marketing for Univision, said the VOD packages are part of carriage renewal negotiations the company is engaged in for its primary Univision network, as well as sister broadcast service Telefutura and cable channel Galavision.

The carriage pacts for the “bulk” of Univision’s 62 stations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico expire at year-end.

CEO Joe Uva, speaking during the programmer’s 2007 upfront presentation to advertisers, declared the value of its signal to be $1 per subscriber per month.

“We’re in conversations with a number of different distributors and expect to have deals in the near term,” said O’Connor during an interview here May 18. She declined to comment about whether terms centered on cash compensation.

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