News Corp executives have tacitly confirmed reports on Bloomberg that it is planning an all-sports channel to rival ESPN. The NYT reported they had said there had been extensive discussions but it wouldn’t be happening before the end of the year.
Speculation is that News Corp could re-brand one of its existing cable channels such as Fuel or Ultimate Fighting Championship. The most likely candidate would be the Speed Channel, the motor racing channel seen in about 80 million homes.
Any channel will be entering a crowded market; Comcast is trying to push its own channel, NBC Sports Network, CBS has CBS Sports Network, and Turner Entertainment has been a heavy bidder for top sports rights, such as NBA and NCAA basketball.
All those companies would like to cut in on ESPN’s dominance. ESPN’s carriage fees are the highest by far; the channel receives $5.06 a month per subscriber this year. But to extract that kind of value from cable systems, a sports channel would need a roster of highly desirable events. News Corp owns rights to packages such as Big Ten and Pac 12 football, some Major League Baseball and Nascar racing events. The company also won the rights to World Cup football starting in 2018.