Latin America is facing an influx of soccer-driven sports
channels, as two services bow panregionally and a few more launch in Brazil.
Those seeking regional coverage include: Pan-american
Sports Network (PSN), which launched last month and is backed by the Dallas-based
private-investment firm Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst Inc.; and International Football
Channel (IFC), from Canada's Bedford Communications. IFC will launch this month in
Spanish-speaking territories and add a Brazilian feed in October, IFC director of
marketing and public relations Enrique Carrillo said.
Soccer-crazed Brazil will receive two new signals this
year. News Corp.'s Fox Sports, which already has distribution in Spanish-speaking Latin
America, plans to expand into Brazil by launching a Portuguese-language service by the end
of the year. Meanwhile, Globosat, the pay TV programming unit of Brazilian media mammoth
Organizaçoes Globo, will launch an à la carte soccer channel in July. The channel will
be known either as Canal dos Clubes or Canal do Futebol, said Globosat CEO Alberto
ESPN International and ESPN Brasil are already entrenched
in the Brazilian marketplace. Should all the channel launches move forward, Brazil's 3
million pay TV subscribers will end up with a staggering seven sports services -- the most
of any single market in the region.
ESPN Brasil general manager Julio Bartolo linked the surge
in soccer-focused sports channels to the professionalization of the game.
The roots of that go back to Brazil's so-called Pele law,
under which soccer-teams have until next year to turn themselves into professional
organizations. "By 2001 [the soccer clubs] have to work like leagues in Europe --
they have to pay taxes and run like companies," said Bartolo. It is a process
attracting overseas investors' interest, he added. "Foreign investors are not only
offering clubs money, but a chance to become professional."
A prime example is HMTF, which is aiming to build a
programming and cable-system powerhouse throughout Latin America. Through PSN, it has
signed agreements with two of Brazil's top soccer teams: Sao Paulo's Corinthians, and
Belo Horizonte's Cruzeiro. This gives PSN television rights to transmit the teams' games,
a share of their revenues the use of their logos. Meanwhile, the teams get the kind of
financial investment which enables them to improve operations by investing in players and
facilities. HMTF also owns 49 percent of Traffic, a local sports-rights company that
manages sports programming for Brazilian broadcaster TV Bandeirantes.
IFC does not see itself as competing head-to-head with
sports channels in Brazil or other countries.
"Our niche is a bit different, we're strictly
all-soccer programming, but you'll not see the big local events and live matches,"
said Carrillo. "We'll be a complement to those events. We'll have a more
international perspective that looks at different aspects of the game, such as in-door
leagues, women's leagues."
Nevertheless, others, like Bartolo, remain skeptical. The
proliferation of channels is "like the gold rush in California; there was not enough
for everyone who wanted gold," he said.