August 17 is a big day for Fox Sports not only in the US, where Fox Sports 1 is prepping its big launch, but also in Europe, where two Fox Sports International channels in Italy and Holland will premiere.
“We are developing a Fox Sports brand in Europe,” says Gabriel Galluccio, head creative at Fox International Channels. “That brand doesn’t exist yet over here.”
In addition, on August 1, the joint venture between Fox International Channels Benelux and Eredivisie Media & Marketing CV, the media arm of Holland’s national soccer league, rebranded its three premium soccer channels as Fox Sports Eredevisie.
And on August 19, Fox is launching the Fox International Channel in Holland (see promo above), which will be a general entertainment channel that includes animation, movies and sports. “This is the first channel with so many different pillars that we’ve launched,” says Galluccio. “It will be a matter of seeing how this formula works and whether we can replicate it.”
While Holland’s three premium soccer channels are all soccer (or football, if you will) all the time, Fox Sports International will feel more like a European ESPN, although 80% of the sports covered on the broader channel is also soccer. The other 20% of the network will be composed of sports such as tennis, golf, Formula 1 auto-racing and Grand Prix motorcycle racing, says Galluccio.
“The one thing that happens here is American football is not a strong product,” he says.
Currently, Fox Sports is known as Sky Sports, which is tied to 21st Century Fox’s satellite broadcaster BSkyB, whose programming service is called Sky. Previously, subscribers to Sky would receive Sky Sports as part of their subscription, but “the cost for the sports rights were not efficient,” says Gallucio, because the service could only run on one provider in each market. “By rebranding it as Fox Sports, the product can live on any platform.”
Fox Sports International also is taking advantage of the departure of ESPN America on August 1, which is undergoing a rebranding and business restructuring.
“There are a lot of things going on in [the European] market that are giving us options to look at other properties that are becoming available,” says Galluccio. “Clearly we aren’t going to compete in a market like the UK, where Sky Sport UK already has a strong hold. But international football in Sky Italy was not doing well because the subscriptions are linked to the economy, and the subscriber base wasn’t distributed very well.”
While the economic crisis in Southern Europe has affected everyone in the TV business, there’s an upside.
“In times of crisis, people want to be distracted,” says Galluccio. “Sports seems to be a bulletproof product. It’s not in as much danger from new media as entertainment is. On demand has taken a big hit in the television market because of new media, but live broadcasting is more solid. When it comes to sports, people want to watch live.”
Fox Sports is currently focusing on Holland and Italy because other European territories aren’t open. The larger markets of Britain and Germany both have Sky Sports, while France is dominated by Al Jazeera Sports.
Launching and running channels in Europe is far more challenging than it is in the US because of the diversity and number of Europe’s small markets, says Galluccio. For example, the culture and language in the UK is much different than the culture and language of France, German, Italy, or Spain. Each of those cultures and languages have to be served when channels are launched, but the economies of scale are small, far smaller than the US.
“The challenge for me is how to optimize all of that,” says Galluccio. “We have to look at these international channels and see how we can creatively optimize our production experts in a territory as diverse as Europe. In some regions, such as Scandanavia, the culture is close enough. Even if the language changes, you can program to all of it.”
“I love that challenge. In comparison, working in the US is so simple. Imagine that you have to do different marketing campaigns for every state in which you are programming. All of your costs are automatically doubled.”
Brief Take: The European sports market offers plenty of opportunity to those willing to wend their way through the complicated mix of cultures, languages and sports rights.