• United States

MSN teams with Fox to lure sports fans

May 07, 20042 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

Microsoft has scored a deal with to create a co-branded sports portal on its MSN network in the U.S. that will offer visitors exclusive content such as video clips and editorials, and give advertisers an opportunity to dig their cleats into the fertile playing field of the combined companies’ sports offerings.

The multi-year agreement, announced Friday, will see FoxSports content such as “Fox NFL Sunday,” game clips, commentators and scoreboards combined with MSN offerings such as alerts on breaking sports news and customized playlists through MSN Video.

The deal replaces MSN’s previous sports partnership with The Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and underscores Fox’s growing success in the sports market. The News Corp. subsidiary has attained exclusive network broadcast rights to Major League Baseball and regular-season National Football League (NFL) games, as well as local programming, and reaches some 81 million homes through its 20 regional sports channels, according to Fox.

The alliance combines the U.S.’ number-one sports broadcast and cable outlets with the a top online destination for sports fans, Yusuf Mehdi, MSN’s corporate vice president of the Information Services and Merchant Platform division said in a statement.

After erotic content, sports and music are two of the biggest lures online, according to market researcher IDC, which predicted in Sept. 2003 that sports games would drive broadband content.

Because sports content is often provided through exclusive contracts, it can give ISPs and online destinations a way to differentiate themselves and generate added subscriber revenue from fans, said Jupiter Research analyst Olivier Beauvillain.

However, he added that sports content is still a small online market and said he remains conservative about the sector’s growth prospects.

Still, companies like RealNetworks have managed to reap big rewards from online sports content. The company’s RealOne SuperPass online subscription offering has netted some 1 million U.S. subscribers, in part due to its exclusive baseball content, Beauvillain said.

Cultivating that kind of market is more difficult in Europe, however, where contracts for sports content are negotiated on a national rather than pan-European basis, Beauvillain said.

“You have to buy national rights one-by-one and it’s very difficult to reach a mass market in Europe,” he said.

Indeed, an MSN spokeswoman in Europe said Friday that she doubts that the FoxSports content deal will be replicated for MSN’s European properties.