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Fox and Telemundo score World Cup rights

October 21, 2011 |  3:50 pm

News Corp.'s Fox and Comcast's Spanish-language network Telemundo have scored future U.S. television rights to FIFA's World Cup soccer from longtime incumbents ESPN and Univision.

The new deals take effect in 2015 -- after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil --  and run seven years to 2022. The pacts include rights to two World Cup men's finals in 2018 and 2022 and two World Cup women's finals in 2015 and 2019.

Although terms of the two agreements were not disclosed, people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly said that Fox paid $425 million for its package while Telemundo shelled out about $600 million for its rights.

Those figures represent a hefty increase from the $100 million that ESPN was paying and the $325 million that Univision had paid for its current soccer contracts.

"We made a disciplined bid that would have been both valuable to FIFA and profitable for our company," ESPN said in a statement.

Univision, which has held rights to World Cup soccer since 1978, said it remains "committed to prudently evaluating content investments."

Fox will not only carry the World Cup final games on its broadcast channel but also will likely show a large number of preliminary matches on its Fox Soccer Channel on cable. That network is in only 40 million homes, but with the addition of such a high-profile event, Fox will be aggressive about boosting its distribution and increasing advertising rates.

For Telemundo in particular, getting the World Cup is a coup. The network has long trailed Univision in ratings, and having the World Cup will give it a huge platform to promote the rest of its programming to the growing Latino audience in the United States.

"This landmark deal for Telemundo represents perhaps the greatest milestone in its history," said Lauren Zalaznick, chairman of NBCUniversal Entertainment & Digital Networks, who has oversight over the Spanish-language network.

The large increase in rights fees is further proof of the value of sports programming to television networks. Although soccer still trails football, baseball and other sports in the U.S., it has grown in popularity, and big event programming has helped both broadcast and cable channels battle ratings erosion from a rapidly expanding media landscape.

--  Joe Flint

 

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