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Fox net bowls over alphabet

Web to pay $20 mil per year for each game

NEW YORK — Outbidding ABC, Fox Sports has ponied up $80 million per year for exclusive broadcast TV rights to the Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl, plus a newly created national championship bowl game.

The four-year deal is part of a Fox Sports strategy to carry the major sports attractions that attract significant numbers of eyeballs, which in turn attract major advertisers, said president Ed Goren, who spoke on a telephone conference call to announce the deal.

Over the four years beginning in 2007, Fox Sports will pay $20 million a year for each of the bowl games, including the new contest, the BCS National Championship Game. The Rose Bowl gets negotiated separately from the Bowl Championship Series; ABC has Rose Bowl rights through 2014 at $30 million per year.

David Hill, chairman of Fox Sports, said the deal is a win for the BCS because “we’ll be able to use our postseason NFL coverage as an unbelievable base to promote the Bowl Championship games.”

Earlier this month, the Fox network coughed up a staggering $713 million per year (a 29% hike) to renew its contract for Sunday National Football Conference games for six more years beyond the 2005 season.

Neal Pilson, sports media consultant and former president of CBS Sports, said Fox Sports may be planning to use the bowl games as the linchpin of a new national sports channel to compete with ESPN.

Pro football drive

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox parent News Corp., said last week that Fox would be interested in bidding on a new package of eight primetime NFL games each year (probably six Thursday and two Saturday).

When added to the bowl games, Pilson said, these NFL games, which would cost an estimated $200 million- $300 million per year, could reinforce the industry’s conviction that Murdoch wants to end ESPN’s monopoly as the only nationally distributed cable sports network.

Asked whether the BCS deal is the harbinger of a new network, Hill said no, adding that he plans to run the games nowhere else but on Fox.

Kevin Weiberg, commissioner of the Big 12 and coordinator for the BCS, said the deal includes not only broadcast TV rights but national radio, Internet, sponsorships, merchandising and ancillary programming on Fox and the Fox Sports Networks.

The last two BCS championship games averaged an eye-opening 15.0 household rating, and the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls have averaged an 11.1 rating over the last two years.

ABC had held the rights to all of the bowl games since 1998.

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