SBD/January 20, 2012/Media

Fox' Eric Shanks Talks About Net Airing First Live EPL Game On U.S. Broadcast Television

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Shanks said ad sales demand is good for Sunday's ManU-Arsenal match
Fox will air the first live EPL game on U.S. broadcast television Sunday when Manchester United visits Arsenal at Emirates Stadium. Fox will begin coverage at 10:30am ET with a pregame show featuring Rob Stone, Eric Wynalda and Piers Morgan. THE DAILY spoke with Fox Sports Media Group co-President and co-COO Eric Shanks about what to expect.

Q: Fox has been carrying tape-delayed EPL matches through the NFL season. How did you come up with the idea?
Shanks: I've got to give (Fox Soccer Exec VP & GM) David Nathanson all the credit. Every time that there's a Premier League match that could run after an NFL singleheader -- or anytime we could do anything -- David's like, "Hey, how about these 18 matches on the broadcast network?" He's really good. He's always looking for stuff. This year, running matches with NFL singleheaders is good because of our soccer business, in general. We're trying to expose more people to world class soccer. I love soccer. We want to expose it to more people. Once the Fox affiliates said yes, we went for it.

Q: How are ad sales around this game?
Shanks: The demand is good and the demo is good. But this is the first time that we're selling a live match on the broadcast network. It's the first time anybody's doing a live match on the broadcast network. We didn't have this plan in place a year ago, when people were actually making their upfront buys for soccer. But I'd say that this is going to be a good barometer for when we do have the plan in place for next year for what number we should be selling at against the demo.

Q: Fox has been criticized for giving airtime to a non-soccer analyst like Piers Morgan. Why did you make the decision to include him on your telecast?
Shanks: Piers is knowledgeable, obviously well-spoken and his role on Sunday is to provide the voice of the fan as he has done for Fox Soccer Channel several times before. He hasn't been afraid to express his opinion. In August, when Manchester United beat Arsenal 8-2, Piers went on Fox Soccer and said that after watching that match he was ashamed to be an Arsenal fan, and was pretty critical of Arsene Wenger, Arsenal's manager. It was just the kind of commentary you'd want a studio analyst to provide. Hopefully, critics will give him a chance and judge him after they've heard what he has to say on Sunday.

Q: Will we see more EPL matches on Fox next year?
Shanks: You might see one more. I don't think you can do it every week. You want to find the right balance. We have multiple initiatives using NFL singleheaders as a lead-in. Soccer is a big one. But I don't think you would go wall-to-wall soccer every Sunday afternoon on a delayed basis.

Q: Will you carry more live games next year?
Shanks: It's hard to do live because of the timing. It runs right up against the pregame show. The network is doing other things at that time. We have news and local programming.

Q: Are there any other leagues you'd like to put on Fox?
Shanks: The Premier League draws the best ratings, along with the Champions League. Those are the two big ones that we have. We want to be a steward of soccer as we lead up to our World Cup action. We have three years to really become the steward of broadcast soccer in the U.S., as well as the cable steward of soccer in the U.S.

Q: Are you viewing this as a trial run for the World Cup?
Shanks: We're starting to gear up and make people aware of our commitment and our involvement in soccer. There's a really loyal fan base of people who watch Fox Soccer. The whole reason that we're all big believers in soccer is that we think that as more people get exposed to it, it will convert them into fans.

Q: Who's your team?
Shanks: My team has always been AC Milan.

Q: Do you have an EPL team?
Shanks: I don't really have an EPL team. I watch them all.
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