Murdoch Eyeing Thursday, Saturday NFL


New York -- After landing a deal for National Football League rights for its Fox broadcasting network last week, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch said the media giant would be interested in pursuing a new package of Thursday- and Saturday-night NFL games, possibly to kick off a new national sports network to rival ESPN.

News Corp. last week agreed to a new six-year NFL-rights agreement under which it will pay about $712 million annually for rights to Sunday-afternoon National Football Conference games.

In addition, its DirecTV Group Inc. unit agreed to pay $3.5 billion over five seasons for the league’s exclusive out-of-market “NFL Sunday Ticket” package, which allows it to broadcast up to 14 pro-football games each week.

Still on the negotiating table are the rights to NFL Sunday-night and Monday-night games, as well as a new eight-game package of late-season Thursday-night and Saturday-night contests, which will likely spread over the last five weeks of the season.

At Fox Entertainment Group’s annual meeting here Tuesday, Murdoch said it is unlikely that News Corp. would pursue the Sunday- and Monday-night package, which, he added, would likely remain with the incumbents -- The Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and ABC networks.

“We’re unlikely to want Monday Night Football in its present form. It’s been going down in the ratings,” Murdoch said. “If they did [offer a Thursday/Saturday package], it would almost certainly be [on a cable network], either a new one or an existing one. There will be quite a lot of interest in it from various people, and we would be interested, too.”

Murdoch added that if Fox was able to capture the Thursday/Saturday games, it would go a long way toward making his desire to create a national sports network to rival ESPN a reality.

“Yes,” Murdoch said in response to a question on if the NFL rights would allow him to launch a national sports network. “But then again, it would be difficult to do that,” he added.

The negotiations for the additional packages could technically last through October, when the Disney-owned networks’ negotiating window closes.

As far as new cable networks, Murdoch said the first out of the blocks would be a reality channel, which should launch in the spring. A business channel could come as early as the end of the summer.

Murdoch said the premium-cable business channel continues to be CNBC, but he added that existing business shows on Fox News Channel could give the new network a leg up.

“We already have three of the most popular business shows on cable on Fox,” he said. “I think we’re well-placed.”

Asked what type of programming would show up on the new business channel, Murdoch said it would be “more positive programming.”