March 4, 2015 / 7:39 PM / 4 years ago

Growth of soccer in U.S. no threat to NFL ratings: Fox

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Soccer may be a hot commodity in the U.S. sport market but poses no threat to the NFL, which will remain King of the Hill for the foreseeable future, Fox Sports president Eric Shanks said on Wednesday.

Fox, which broadcasts NFL games, also owns U.S. television rights to the 2018, 2022 and 2026 World Cups, the 2015 Women’s World Cup and a portfolio of domestic leagues but it is American football that dominates its ratings.

“We are a sport crazy country and there is nothing right now that would indicate that there is any threat to the King of the Hill which is the NFL,” Shanks said at the Sport Business Summit in midtown Manhattan.

“Football is a uniquely American sport ... athletes will continue to play football for a very long time in this country.”

In 2011, Fox, NBC and CBS agreed to a record-smashing, nine-year, $28 billion television rights deal with the NFL that dwarfed all other U.S. broadcast packages.

While the NFL remains the undisputed No. 1 for the U.S. broadcasters, soccer has made solid gains in the United States both on and off the pitch.

Major League Soccer continues to add new franchises and has become an increasingly popular destination for marquee names.

The American appetite for top flight soccer has even caught the attention of sponsors and advertisers as television ratings for everything from Premier League to women’s soccer skyrocket.

“The time is now (for soccer),” said Shanks. “This country, if you kick around ball your ratings are up 25 percent to 50 percent ... (there’s) a lot of reasons for it.

“Access to great international competitions, the growth of our domestic league, the success of the U.S. team. FIFA the video game is also a big reason for it.”

The growth in popularity is staggering to Shanks considering that just three decades ago soccer was starting from “zero” in the United States.

Leagues have come and gone but with MLS scheduled to open its 20th season this week it appears soccer has finally gained a solid footing in the United States.

“As I look back, especially for this audience, 1983 was zero year for soccer in this country. It was the year of the Cosmos and Pele and Beckenbauer,” said Shanks. “The teenagers (back) then have teenagers of their own now. So we’re really only at the beginning of the second generation soccer in this country.

“That’s why when we look at the 2011 Women’s World Cup it had the highest rate of family viewing of any event, outrating the NFL, NBA, the Olympics, even, in terms of multi-generations watching.

“We’re really excited and clearly vesting in all aspects of soccer in this country.”

Additional reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Frank Pingue

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