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Volume 21 No. 30
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Fox Soccer Plus gets rights to rugby leagues

Fox’s premium soccer channel picked up the rights to three leagues that have nothing to do with soccer.

Australia’s National Rugby League is now part of the Fox Soccer Plus lineup.
Fox Soccer Plus, a sister channel to Fox Soccer Channel, acquired U.S. rights to two of the world’s biggest rugby leagues from Australia and Europe, as well as Australian rules football. It’s part of the channel’s strategy to build its international programming, meaning it will continue to pursue rights to international sports beyond soccer.

“Fox Soccer Plus is about more than just soccer,” said David Nathanson, Fox Soccer Channel’s executive vice president and general manager. “We want to showcase the best in international sport.”

This strategy meshes with FSC, which increasingly will carry non-soccer programming from Fox Soccer Plus.

Nathanson also said FSC would carry some rugby or Aussie rules games live, particularly in the early morning hours. Sports like rugby and Australian football have a similar international appeal as soccer that keeps the programming in line with the FSC audience, Nathanson said.

“We’ll pick and choose events that will drive bigger audiences,” Nathanson said. “We have experimented with early morning live rugby programming on Fox Soccer Channel before. As part of these deals, we’ll show some of the matches on FSC.”

Fox Soccer Plus already has carried games from Australia’s National Rugby League and England’s Super League. Fox Soccer Plus will begin showing games from the Australian Football League at the end of the month.

Fox Soccer Plus also signed a deal with the Scottish Premier League. Those soccer games will debut on the premium channel on Saturday. Nathanson said that he plans to carry some of the bigger games live on FSC. For example, the Scottish Premier League’s biggest rivalry between Celtic and Rangers will be available live on FSC March 25. Nathanson said such a move works for FSC because it adds more live content. It also will help market Fox Soccer Plus, which will carry many more of the Scottish games.

In March 2010, about a week after the European-based distributor Setanta Sports channel went dark in the United States, Fox Soccer Plus launched with rights previously held by Setanta.

Cablevision and Time Warner Cable carry the channel on their sports tiers, but other operators make it available a la carte, for about $15 per month. It’s not known how many homes subscribe to Fox Soccer Plus. FSC is in 41 million homes.

“Fox Soccer Plus has a different model than Fox Soccer Channel,” Nathanson said. “It relies on people who are willing to pay for it each month on top of what they’re already paying for cable. We have to add content worthy of that.”