Fox Gets Italy’s Serie A

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The soccer-rights ball keeps rolling with Fox Soccer Channel and sister service Fox Sports en Español netting a three-year deal for English-language and Spanish-language TV rights for Italy’s top league, Serie A.

Kicking off in late August and extending through the 2009-10 season, the networks will showcase up to four matches from Serie A -- whose 18 teams play a 34-round season -- each weekend. In addition to televising the matches of such internationally renowned Italian sides as AC Milan, AS Roma, Inter Milan and Juventus, there will be preview and recap shows and some select midweek matches.

David Sternberg, executive vice president and general manager of the two services, said the rights were acquired from Milan sports agency Media Partners & Silva after negotiations over the past few months. Deal terms were not disclosed.

The pact marks a homecoming of sorts for Fox Soccer and a loss for GolTV, which is being acquired by Dave Checketts’ SPC Worldwide. Until 1999, Fox Soccer forerunner Fox Sports World held the U.S. rights to Serie A and “then owned part of it for a while,” Sternberg said.

Over the past two seasons, primary Serie A rights in the United States have been held by GolTV, save for the home matches of Catania, Lazio, Cagliari and Torino, which have been airing on Fox Soccer and Fox Sports en Español.

Along with recently renewed extended rights for the English Premiere League through 2010, Sternberg said the networks’ lineups from Europe are in good shape for the balance of this decade.

“We have exclusive rights to two of the top three leagues in the world. We believe the addition of Serie A, along with the EPL, are a perfect complement to our domestic soccer programming,” he added.

GolTV controls U.S. TV rights to Spain’s La Liga through the 2008-09 season.

The Fox networks also have extensive rights to Major League Soccer action, as well as the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams.

Sternberg believes that the Serie A acquisition -- “the exclusivity will provide a competitive edge for us” -- will broaden the audience and advertising base for both networks.

“There are a lot of passionate fans of European soccer that are not as into the EPL as they are Serie A. There are also many Latin American players in Serie A who will draw interest among are Hispanic viewers,” he said, noting that many of the members of the 2006 World Cup champion Italian team play in their nation’s top circuit.

Sternberg, who said on-air talent to call the Serie A matches would be announced in the months ahead, added that Fox Soccer’s weekend European lineup for the 2007-08 season could feature a pair of EPL matches at 10 a.m. and noon (EST) Saturdays, followed by a Serie A contest. On Sunday, the tentative schedule calls for Serie action to start at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., with an EPL game in between.

Fox Soccer, having added some 7 million subscribers over the past year, now counts some 29 million subscribers. Fox Sports en Español has 10 million subscribers overall, 4.5 million of which are Hispanic households. The latter-demo total has increased by 500,000 over the past 12 months, according to Sternberg.

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