Leaving no possible sports-TV opportunity untested, the owner of The Fight Network and My Combat Channel is making plans for a new channel to serve participants of fantasy sports leagues.
Leonard Asper, CEO of Toronto-based Anthem Media, received a license in Canada to start a fantasy-sports broadcast network, and he told Multichannel News he’ll be starting FNTSY Sports Networks in both Canada and the United States next March.
He’s pursuing carriage deals with U.S. multichannel distributors and Anthem has already acquired a pair of Web sites, RotoExperts.com and SportsGrid.com, to tie in with the channel and provide content.
Video-on-demand and streamed video programs are key components of the FNTSY plans, Asper said. “We don’t need a big carriage deal to launch,” he said.
A low carriage bar is a good thing to have, given how hard it is for networks to get added to cable, satellite and telco lineups.
“Linear-channel distribution is really, really difficult, between bandwidth crunch and cost,” said Bob Watson, a former Time Warner Cable programming negotiator who’s now a consultant and president of Watson Media Group. Fantasy-sports content could help distributors with sports tiers, he said, but the concept might ultimately work best as an IPTV or online service.
Asper — the former CEO of Canadian media conglomerate Canwest, which sold its broadcast assets to Shaw Media in 2010 — said he thinks “fantasy is the biggest opportunity of all.”
Some 35 million adults in North America participate in fantasy leagues, in which teams are formed via drafts of players and compete based on those players’ accumulated statistics. Football is by far the biggest fantasy sport (72%), according to surveys the network cited.
Fantasy-league participants are relatively affluent and spend a lot. Nielsen released a report last week that said fantasy football app users spent 2 hours 14 minutes per person, on average, on the smartphone apps in September, and fantasy players are 49% more likely than the average adult U.S. Internet user to have shopped online for beer.
Asper envisions studio and on-location shows related to major sporting events. Chris Doleman, a former National Football League defensive lineman, is on board for on-air and development roles.
Asper said the network will be a combination of CNBC and CNN for fantasy sports, with some reporting, “a lot of predictions” and on-air personalities.
Anthem Media also is a part owner of The Pursuit Channel, an outdoor-sports outlet, along with The Fight Network, which broadcasts in Canada and recently launched in Belgium on Liberty Global-owned Telenet, and My Combat Channel, carried on Grande Communications in Texas.
At Canwest, Asper was involved with channel launches in Chile, Ireland (TV3) and New Zealand. Canwest also was part owner of Canadian versions of Scripps Networks’ HGTV and Food Network, and Asper sees Food’s passionate audience bases on TV and online as forming a template for the fantasy-sports channel.
Anthem currently programs 30 hours per week on the fantasy sports channel on Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
Along with the many sports networks already serving up fantasy-league fare, potential competition could come from another fantasy-sports network with launch plans.
Fantasy Sports Zone TV, backed by former Paxson Communications top executives Steve Friedman and Jeff Sagansky, also would target 35 million fantasy-sports players, with 3,000 hours of original programming in sports ranging from baseball, football, basketball and NASCAR to hockey and golf, they said in a news release on Nov. 5.
Multichannel News attempted to reach the other channel’s backers for more information about those plans, but they declined comment.