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Volume 23 No. 29
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Ratings up 32 percent for Champions League on FSC

Fox Soccer Channel this year saw a 32 percent increase in viewership for UEFA Champions League games over 2010, its first year as U.S. broadcaster of the European soccer tournament. FSC averaged 186,000 viewers for 28 taped and live telecasts, up from 141,000 for the same number in 2010.

Champions League also brought new advertisers to the network and became the first sports property to be spread across Fox’s six different channels: FSC, Fox Soccer Plus, Fox Deportes, FSN, FX and Fox. In December, Fox extended its exclusive rights with the tournament until the 2014-15 season.

“When you see the results we’ve had with [Champions League] it shows why we’re picking it up for another five years,” said David Nathanson, FSC’s executive vice president and general manager. “The [Champions League] gave us a midweek fixture and gave us a vehicle to promote our weekend programming.”

Nathanson said ad inventory for Champions League games sold out for the 2010-11 season, and that inventory for Saturday’s final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United sold out in January. That game will be shown live on Fox at 2:45 p.m. Eastern.

“The reality is that if we had known [Barcelona and Manchester United] were going to be in the finals we probably could have charged more,” Nathanson said. “[Champions League] has broadened our portfolio and raised the quality of [advertisers].”

Pizza Hut, Heineken and Acura came on as new Champions League sponsors this year, and Geico, State Farm Insurance, Volkswagen and Asics footwear renewed from the 2009-10 tournament. For the first time, Apple bought ad time with FSC for the Champions League finals. Nathanson declined to reveal ad revenue.

The Champions League semifinals on FX also performed well — the April 27 semifinal between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid garnered 489,000 viewers, while 308,000 watched the May 4 game between Manchester United and FC Schalke.

Fox will debut a new “Live from London” pregame show on Friday night on FSC, and the network will add 30 minutes to its pregame show on Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m. Nathanson said that for the 2011-12 Champions League tournament, Fox will add a live on-field reporter for UEFA matches — it now relies on reporters from the local broadcast.

The bump in total viewership brings FSC closer to the tournament’s peak viewership on ESPN, which controlled rights to the league for more than a decade but was outbid by Fox and Setanta Sports in 2009. The 2009 Champions League averaged 287,000 viewers on ESPN. FSC is distributed in 39 million homes, while ESPN is in 99.5 million homes.