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Super Start for Soccer Net

1/09/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

America’s biggest football game will serve as a kickoff for the rebranding efforts of a futbol network.

Fox’s Super Bowl XXXIX pregame show on Feb. 6 will host a segment trumpeting the following day’s conversion of Fox Sports World to Fox Soccer Channel.

In addition to showcasing the service’s new look and logo, the segment will feature soccer stars Mia Hamm and Freddy Adu talking up the network as “America’s Soccer Channel.”

“It exemplifies the commitment Fox overall as a corporation has to this network and to promoting soccer in this country,” Fox Soccer Channel general manager David Sternberg said.

“It’s not just a niche sport anymore, but a programming genre that appeals to every sports fan.”

Sternberg said it’s a natural progression for the 7-year-old, 20 million-subscriber network. “Given that 80 to 85% of programming hours are devoted to soccer, we needed to bring the image of the network in line with what people are tuning in to watch.”

Last year, Fox Sports World premiered several new soccer shows, including a Major League Soccer game of the week and the Champions World Tour, featuring international soccer powers like the U.K.’s Manchester United. It also holds rights to the Barclays English Premier League, United Soccer Leagues, the FA Cup, the UEFA Cup, the Toyota Intercontinental Cup and World Cup qualifying matches for England and the United States.

Fox Cable executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Lindsay Gardner said affiliates have been notified of the change and all will remain on board.

The network, which is primarily carried on digital basic or digital sports tiers, has a carriage pact with every major MSO.

Sternberg said other programming, like traditional rugby matches and indoor soccer, will round out the soccer fare for at least another six months as rights deals expire.

He also said the network will continue to be “active” in the soccer rights marketplace — including a potential bid for future World Cup rights. The Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and ABC hold English-language U.S. rights to the 2006 World Cup tournament.

“We are very interested in having a role post-2006 on coverage of the World Cup, whether that’s something we do on our own or partnerships with others,” he said. “We will remain disciplined and any programming deals will be consistent with our strategy and business plan.”

Sternberg also said the network will debut during the second quarter Fox Soccer USA, a weekly 30-minute show focusing on amateur soccer news. It’ll also add an on-screen soccer-scores ticker.

September