Networks unlikely to profit from World Cup

Thu May 6, 2010 11:58pm EDT
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By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - As the World Cup ads say, one game changes everything.

ESPN is counting on that maxim to justify its biggest marketing blitz to date for a single event, hoping to prove that soccer has reached critical mass in the United States -- a mass worthy of the monthlong global sports extravaganza.

Meanwhile, Univision, with a long track record covering soccer as Spanish-language U.S. rightsholder for the World Cup, already knows it's true. It will use the event, taking place in South Africa from June 11 to July 11, to make further inroads with marketers who might not have opened their wallets for the broadcaster in the past and generally still pay lower ad rates than do the network's English-language peers.

Both networks say ad revenue around the World Cup has been brisk.

But rights fees also are up, and both networks are going all out in terms of production, coverage and marketing.

"We embrace this as a mega-event, not just as a sporting event," says Alina Falcon, president of news and sports at Univision. "It is our biggest commitment yet in terms of resources."

ESPN is investing more money on promoting the World Cup than it has for any other sporting event in the channel's 30-year history.

Although the rightsholders don't disclose spending budgets, they might end up making little or no profit, which is not unheard of: NBC lost $223 million on the Winter Olympics. Still, both are betting on continued growth of the U.S. soccer market, which has benefited from more exposure to content than ever before thanks to foreign league coverage on TV and online.   Continued...

<p>A general view of the FNB stadium is seen in Soweto, South Africa, in the early hours of the morning April 20, 2010. REUTERS/Peter Andrews</p>