SBD/September 1, 2011/Media

Fox Soccer's Nathanson Discusses Net's Commitment To Sport

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Fox's first EPL match will be Manchester United-Chelsea on Sept. 18
Fox Sports officially announced its plans to show several EPL games on its broadcast channel this season, including a Manchester United-Chelsea game live on Super Bowl Sunday. THE DAILY spoke with Fox Soccer Exec VP & GM David Nathanson about the broadcaster's commitment to the sport and the next steps it is planning to take.

Q: Why is it a big deal to have Fox broadcast carry EPL games?
Nathanson: It's representative of the interest and growth of the sport in the U.S. Fox has seen significant growth in the sport throughout its platforms. The UEFA Champions League final broke a ratings record. Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes are seeing viewership growth. A natural transition is to take some of our marquee rights, like the Barclay's Premier League, and place it on the network where those opportunities are available.

Q: Is Fox committed to putting more soccer games on broadcast television?
Nathanson: We have already committed more than any other network. We have the UEFA semifinal now on FX and the UEFA finals on Fox broadcast through 2015. Couple this with what we call the "game before the game," which is the Premier League matchup, which we expect to be Manchester United versus Chelsea on Super Bowl Sunday. Super Bowl Sunday is the most watched television day in sports and Fox's broadcast will put soccer on the right path to gain a broader audience and to fit with the top sporting events in the U.S.

Q: I didn't hear a firm commitment from you about future games.
Nathanson: Unless we were able to make a formal announcement of our plans, which we're not prepared to do at this point beyond the three delayed events and the live "game before the game" event, those are the plans that we know about today. Over the past two years, we've made major in-roads in putting soccer on our most widely distributed platform. Couple that with the tonnage we deliver, with Fox Soccer, Fox Soccer Plus, Fox Deportes and all the other soccer we carry across Fox Sports Net, there's no other company that's making a broader commitment to the sport than we are.

Q: How will Fox know if the live Super Bowl Sunday game is successful?
Nathanson: The measurable factors are things like ratings, sponsorship and ad sales. We found that after breaking ratings records for the UEFA Champions League final, it led to a halo affect of growth and viewership on Fox Soccer Channel after the fact. The UEFA Champion's League and the Barclay's Premier League don't end Super Bowl Sunday. You still have another seven months in the season on Fox Soccer. The opportunity to drive that audience for the rest of the season is a huge opportunity for us and one that we hope to replicate in the years ahead.

Q: This type of commitment suggests that you'll be bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup rights when they are available.
Nathanson: We are a 24/7, 365-day a year network. That's an event that happens once every four years. Should we be lucky enough to acquire the rights, we'd do very well with it. Our business is more focused on the events that we carry day-in, day-out every weekend. It would fit very well with our strategy. But I wouldn't say that it's a shoe-in for Fox to get it. It's a competitive environment.

Q: MLS decided to move its package from Fox Soccer to NBC Sports Network, leaving the only English-language U.S. soccer channel without rights to the biggest U.S. soccer league. How does that affect Fox Soccer?
Nathanson: We supported MLS for 14 years. Although our agreement with MLS ends at the end of the season, we still will continue to support the growth of MLS. It's critical to have a strong league in the United States. We will do what we can to support them through our coverage and online. We don't view MLS' decision as negative toward Fox. We view it as a sign of the sport's growth. The fact that soccer is where it is today sparked interest in a competitor. Even without MLS, there's not an organization that's supporting soccer more in the U.S. than we are.
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