Fox-Time Warner deal could bring the game to ESPN

Thu Jul 17, 2014 11:22am EDT
 
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By Ronald Grover and Diane Bartz

(Reuters) - Twenty-First Century Fox's plan to buy Time Warner could create an upheaval in the sports television world, creating the first meaningful challenge to Walt Disney Co's ESPN.

Time Warner's board has rejected an $80 billion bid, but Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch is unlikely to walk away quickly. A deal would bring him college basketball's "March Madness" championship tournament, prime time National Basketball Association (NBA) games, and Major League Baseball (MLB) games.

Fox's sports rights include National Football League games, professional baseball games and NASCAR racing. In 2015 it gets the rights to women's World Cup soccer and in 2018 the men's World Cup.

Disney's ESPN, with Monday Night Football, Major League Baseball games, NBA games and college football, will still be the team to beat, but for once there might be a match.

"You start to put it all together and you create a significant competitor to ESPN for ratings and advertising dollars,” said Marc Ganis, a sports TV consultant.

In an age of DVRs and on demand viewing, sports stands out for its ability to draw television audiences which are large and watch live, two traits crucial for selling advertising, says Ed Desser, a former president of NBA Television and New Media Ventures, who advises teams and league's on their TV contracts.

"It's TV's growth engine," he says. "It drives subscriber fees and keeps people watching."

Ganis speculates that some key Time Warner sports, such as its professional basketball doubleheaders, could move from TNT to Fox Sports 1. Fox Sports 1 already airs major league baseball, motor sports, mixed marital arts and college football and basketball games from the larger conferences.   Continued...

 
A woman walks past the Time Warner Center near Columbus Circle in Manhattan, New York July 16, 2014.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif