Fox Sports sets up for long game in U.S. women's soccer

Thu Jun 11, 2015 7:48pm EDT
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By Daina Beth Solomon and Larry Fine

(Reuters) - If American soccer star Alex Morgan notches up a goal or two in Friday's U.S.-Sweden match at the Women's World Cup, she will not only score for Team USA, but also for the Fox network that took a big gamble on the event.

Fox Sports will air all 52 matches of the tournament from Canada, 16 of them on the Fox broadcast network, and a good performance for the strong American women's team should enhance ratings.

But even if the American women falter and ratings underperform, Fox is committed to a longer game: winning over women and Millennial fans on its way to becoming the leading soccer broadcaster in the United States, ahead of ESPN and NBC.

"Every indicator shows that the American public is interested in, watches and embraces our Women's World Cup team, but more importantly, the overall event and soccer as a TV sport," said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and now a sports business consultant.

"I'm feeling good about it and I'm sure Fox is feeling good about it."

For the opening U.S. game on Monday, 3.3 million people tuned in to cable channel Fox Sports 1 to witness the 3-1 win over Australia, triple the number of viewers who watched the team's opening game at the 2011 World Cup.

So far, average viewership has increased by 72 percent over 2011. David Nathanson, head of business operations for Fox Sports, said he is confident even higher numbers will follow.

Nathanson will not say what the television unit of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc has spent on the event, but investments include a production center built from scratch in Vancouver and $15 million in marketing.   Continued...

A digital billboard advertising the Women's World Cup is seen at Times Square in New York, United States, June 11, 2015. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton