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SBD Global/October 19, 2012/Media

ESPN, Fox Face Challengers As Networks Submit Bids For U.S. Rights To EPL

Thursday was the last day for U.S. networks to submit bids to pick up rights to the EPL, according to several sources who say they do not know when the EPL will formally announce a winner. ESPN and Fox Soccer currently hold the U.S. TV rights, and sources said both networks have submitted bids. NBC Universal Sports also has submitted a bid for the rights. Sources say al-Jazeera-owned BeIN Sport, IMG and Discovery Networks were considering submitting bids, as well. The EPL last sold its rights three years ago to Fox Soccer. The channel, in turn, sublicensed about 80 games per season to ESPN. The two media companies have submitted a similar joint bid this week. The package is especially important to Fox Sports, which runs Fox Soccer. "English Premier League is truly one of the world’s elite organizations and the level of soccer is unparalleled,” said Fox Soccer Exec VP & GM David Nathanson. “Fox has increased the league’s U.S. exposure tremendously during this current three year cycle, and we hope to be able to continue to grow the league and sport in America going forward." Fox Soccer VP/National Ad Sales Mike Petruzzi, a former exec at SUM, said EPL broadcasts have been instrumental in selling sponsorships at the network. “It takes time,” said Petruzzi in an interview late this summer. “There were times when it wasn’t easy to get in the door. But when we meet with CMOs and heads of agencies, everyone’s a soccer fan. With the EPL now, there’s a great level of awareness.”

NBC BID NOT AS STRONG AS EXPECTED: While NBC Sports submitted a bid, sources said it was not as strong as some were expecting. NBC’s cable channel, NBC Sports Network, is in the market for more live sports. But NBC’s F1 deal, which was announced earlier this week, will fill some of the same windows NBC Sports would need for the EPL, sources said. BeIN Sport has been aggressive in picking up int'l soccer rights to top European leagues, as the net has deep pockets. But there is a question whether it would have enough weekend morning windows to accommodate EPL, given its existing deals with La Liga and Serie A. There is also a question of whether EPL would sell its rights to a channel that has little distribution and is relegated to sports tiers. Discovery for the past several years has made noise about trying to add sports to some of its channels like Velocity, a channel targeting the 25-54 demo. It is not clear how serious Discovery will be in trying to pick up EPL rights. IMG did not return a phone call by deadline, but its interest in EPL almost certainly would be to sublicense the games to interested networks.
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