2008 CABLE SHOW: Fox Soccer, Setanta Score FA Cup Rights

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

The four-year deals with The Football Association, England’s governing body for soccer, essentially give Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta, which operates a pay network dedicated to soccer and rugby, 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 channels will have rights to ancillary FA programming, including preview and review shows, archival matches and magazine programs.

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 match between the reigning FA Cup champion and the winner of the Barclays Premier League, England's top futbol circuit. This August, the match will pit Portsmouth against Manchester United. The agreements also call for both 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 semifinal matches, FSC executive vice president and general manager David Sternberg and Setanta Sports International managing director Roger Hall told Multichannel News during an interview Monday at the 2008 Cable Show here.

The networks also hold digital rights to the matches they will televise, as well as shared rights to video clips of all England and FA Cup matches across TV, Internet, broadband and mobile platforms.

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.

“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,” said Hall. “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 the exclusive four-year contract that expired with Portsmouth’s 1-0 victory over Cardiff on May 17, also sublicensed matches to pay-per-view purveyors. To that end, Portsmouth’s triumph, its first in the FA Cup since 1939, was presented live on PPV, before FSC aired the encore, said Sternberg.

Marked by the demise of the top Barclays Premier League teams, the 2007-08 FA Cup competition captured the imagination of fans.

“Our ratings were up year-to-year, as the small teams pulled big upsets,” said Sternberg.

Added Hall: “There was a renaissance or the FA Cup this year with the big BPL teams going out. There was more awareness and record attendance for the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. It's a good time to be going in with the FA Cup."

Both Sternberg and Hall said their respective networks would play up the Cinderella aspects of the competition with their promo campaigns.

Separately, FSC has 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.

FSC will show all contests, including quarterfinal semifinal and final matches and all group stage matches featuring clubs from the domestic soccer circuit, Major League Soccer, to which the network also holds rights. The network also secured attendant digital rights. The winning team gains a berth in the December 2009 FIFA Club World Cup, a tournament that also airs on FSC.

The U.S. entries comprise the finalists from the MLS Cup championship match, the U.S. Open Cup winner and the team with the most regular-season MLS points. For the upcoming competition, the U.S. will be represented by the Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution, Chivas USA and D.C. United.

“We’re excited about adding this asset to our portfolio,” said Sternberg. “MLS 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.”

Univision holds the Spanish-language rights to the CONCACAF Champions League, which succeeds the Champions Cup, an eight-team competition that FSC televised from 2005-2008. 

 For more news from NCTA's The Cable Show '08, click here.

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