Clash of the titans? News Corp. plans challenge to ESPN

ESPN has pretty much had an open field to run in as the preeminent sports broadcaster in the United States. But, ESPN has begun to see some challengers crop up, including NBCUniversal, with its recent entry to around-the-clock sports in the form of its NBC Sports Network, nee Versus.

Now, it may be facing even stiffer competition in the form of a focused effort from news heavyweight News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWSA), which reportedly is considering launching its own national sports network.

The Wall Street Journal reports the company, which has some 20 regional sports channels in its Fox Sports Network, as well as a slew of other sports operations including Fuel, Fox Soccer Channel, The Big Ten Network, Fox College Sports and motor-sport network Speed, is looking to offer a national channel, probably by converting one of its existing channels into an ESPN rival.  

David Hill, chairman of Fox Sports, has been handed the reins and is heading development, reports Bloomberg. If it has success in the U.S., an international expansion is likely.

Through its Fox Sports network, the company already reaches some 75 percent of U.S. homes, the Journal reported.

The allure, of course, is for ESPN in the huge carriage fees it demands--and gets--from pay-TV operators, the highest fees of any cable channel at more than $5 a year from every cable subscriber.

With ESPN's recent multi-billion deal with the NFL, live sports have become an even bigger piece of the pay-TV revenue and expense pie.

News Corp. hasn't just watched as ESPN and its rivals have gobbled up sports programming. It has the rights to soccer's 2018 and 2022 World Cup, and, in addition to the Big Ten Network, also has rights to the PAC-12 Conference and Big-12 Conference games.

"The success of all these networks will depend on the quality of their sports rights," said David Joyce, an analyst at Miller Tabak & Co. "There's been a lot of competition for those rights, and that's driven up costs."

For more:
- see this WSJ article
- see this Bloomberg article

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