News Corp. Mulls National Sports Network to Take on ESPN

The media giant likely would convert an existing cable channel, but a potential sports property would not launch any time this year.

NEW YORK -- News Corp. is mulling the launch of a national cable sports network in the U.S. that would put it in more direct competition with Disney-owned ESPN, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The entertainment conglomerate, led by chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, has been discussing the idea off and on for several months but said it hasn't made a decision. If the company does choose to pursue a sports network, it likely would convert an existing cable channel, but it would not launch anytime this year, the Journal said. News Corp.'s considerations about a sports network were originally reported by Bloomberg News.

Comcast-controlled NBCUniversal has rebranded its Versus sports network as NBC Sports Network to become a bigger competitor to ESPN. "We face competition every day, and it actually only makes us better," said an ESPN spokeswoman when asked by the Journal about the potential latest competitor.

News Corp. currently uses its Fox Sports brand to play in the big leagues of TV sports. It airs sports on the Fox broadcast network, 20 regional sports channels and extreme sports cable network Fuel TV and several other cable channels.

Lazard Capital Markets analyst Barton Crockett predicted that News Corp. likely would move slowly at first if it launches a national sports network. "We conclude that the costs of a launch are massive, but the opportunity is enticing," he said. "The best way to start would likely be to take a portion of the niche rights now allocated to FX, Speed, Fuel and Fox Soccer and use those to seed a new national network, perhaps using Fuel as a base and adding more homes."

Drew Crum, analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus, also suggested that Fuel could be rebranded as a national sports network. "News Corp. could be a major player in upcoming/potential negotiations for sports rights," he said.


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