Fox Soccer Looks To Champion Distribution Growth With UEFA Renewal

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After wresting the rights from ESPN in 2009, Fox Sports Media Group will keep its hold on the UEFA Champions League in the U.S. through the middle of this decade.
Fox Sports -- now in the second year of a three-year pact for the top European club tourney that it initially gained the rights to via a combined bid with the defunct Setanta Sports USA last year -- had to fend off proposals from ESPN and GolTV this time round. The bids, according to sources, went into a second round, with Fox Sports ultimately keeping the TV and digital rights for the 2012-13, 2013-2014 and 2014-15 seasons.
"This is the first deal of its kind," said David Nathanson, executive vice president and general manager of Fox Soccer Channel. "Soccer is the one sport that cuts across so many of our networks."
Indeed, the game plan calls for the final match to air again on Fox Broadcast, reaching 115 million households, with the new deal pushing two of the four semifinal contests to FX, which counts some 98 million subscribers. Moreover, FSN, which under the current pact offers only Tuesday afternoon windows, will televise 28 live contests then, as well as on Wednesday match days.
As the primary outlet for the Champions League in the U.S., Fox Soccer Channel, which counts some 38 million subscribers, will continue to deliver 110 live and delayed matches per season. Premium service Fox Soccer Plus carries 94 live and delayed match telecasts annually, and like FSC's, its Champions League match-day coverage features eight-to-10 hour blocks of uninterrupted coverage.
For its part, Spanish-language Fox Deportes will continue to televise 110 live and delayed match telecasts per season, as well as an additional 250 hours of UEFA Champions League encore coverage per season.
All told, FSC, Fox Soccer Plus and Fox Deportes will expand their encore coverage to some 2600 hours per season under the new pact.
Fox's new media rights play extends to the Internet via premium broadband portal Foxsoccer.tv, as well mobile devices through Fox Soccer's iPhone app. Foxsoccer.com and Foxdeportes.com continue to offer exclusive video highlights of all matches plus live, interactive Match Trax featuring in-game stats, commentary and more
Nathanson said that Fox has been pleased overall with the Nielsen performance of the property, which he believes will rise during the round of 16, with those pairings set to be announced on Dec. 17. He said the UEFA extension is critical and reaffirms Fox's futbol commitment.
"We moved aggressively with this property, which is testament to the value we place on UEFA and the Champions League," he said, noting that the rights' renewal will help build distribution Fox Soccer Channel over the course of the decade, as well as serve as an incentive for distributors to launch Fox Soccer Plus.
The premium service's current roster includes DirecTV, Dish, Cox, Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS. Nathanson said he hopes to announce a couple of other distribution deals shortly.
Fox, according to Nathanson, also has its eye on soccer's biggest prize, despite FIFA's recent awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
"We recognize regardless of where the World Cup is held, it's one of the greatest sporting events on the planet," he said. "It is our duty to look at [the rights] aggressively to bring it to the Fox family. We certainly expect to explore that possibility."
That time is likely to come in the fall of 2013, as FIFA traditionally awards TV rights deals during the autumn preceding the upcoming men's World Cup, which will next take place in Brazil during 2014.

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