Fox Sports Latin pay nets, TyC merge

Partners to co-manage Buenos Aires-based entity

MIAMI — In a major move in the Latin American sports arena, Fox Sports Intl. is merging its Spanish-lingo feevees with Argentine sports net TyC Sports.

The venture will combine the assets of Fox Sports Latin America, which has 9.8 million subs in Spanish-speaking territories, and Fox Sports World Espanol, a U.S. net with 3.9 million subs, with the TyC Sports network, which reaches 6.7 million homes, mostly in Argentina and other parts of South America.

The new Fox-TyC company will be based in Buenos Aires. Pending regulatory and other approvals, the partners will co-manage. They plan to maintain the existing channels. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The venture does not cover Brazil, where Fox Sports Intl. does not yet have a presence. In October, it announced a deal with ESPN Intl. and Brazilian pay TV programmer Globosat to launch the Portuguese-lingo ESPN-Fox Sports network this year.

From a distribution and content standpoint, “This strategic alliance will boost our long-term prospects,” Bob Thompson, prexy of Fox Sports Intl., told Daily Variety.

TyC Sports is owned by TeleRed Imagen (Trisa), a joint venture formed by leading Latino sports rights holder and programmer Torneo y Competencias (in which Liberty Media owns a major stake) and Argentine media conglom Grupo Clarin.

Trisa will handle day-to-day operations, distribution and local ad sales of the TyC Sports and Fox Sports networks in Latin America.

L.A.-based Fox Sports Intl. will oversee pan-regional ad sales and continue to manage the U.S. net.

TyC brands U.S.

Through Fox Cable, Fox Sports Intl. plans to launch a TyC Sports branded net into the U.S. market.

U.S. cable systems increasingly are adopting digital technology and creating special tiers targeted to Hispanic viewers, Thompson said. “They are looking for product to bolster those tiers.”

According to ratings agency Ibope, TyC Sports was among the top five cable nets last year in Argentina, Latin America’s most heavily cabled market.

Fox and TyC are betting they can compete more effectively by counterprogramming their networks.

They compete against ESPN and Pan-American Sports Network (PSN), which was launched by Hick Muse last year and now reaches than 9 million homes.

Too many webs?

The market ultimately will determine whether Latin America, with low pay TV penetration, has too many sports nets, said David Sternberg, Fox Sports Intl.’s VP of business development and general manager for Latin America.

“The going has not been easy there,” Sternberg acknowledged. “Our feeling is that this combination gives us a powerful presence.”

The new venture may smooth the road for Fox Sports in Argentina. Leading MSO Cablevision, which is backed by Hicks Muse and Liberty Media, kicked the Fox Sports channel off its system late last year in a very public dispute over carriage fees and low ratings. Fox Sports got back on, but with carriage payments slashed for it, Canal Fox and Fox Kids.