Jumping Into Soccer

Over the next two years, In Demand hopes its cable affiliates place a lot of soccer buys in the back of the net.

Through a deal with New York-based SCP Worldwide, terms of which were not disclosed, In Demand secured cable pay-per-view rights to 70 South American World Cup Qualifying matches during 2008 and 2009.

The on-demand aggregator plans to make the matches, which play out over 14 rounds, available as a full subscription package or on a pay-per-game basis.

Satellite-TV provider Dish Network already was on the pitch, showing 16 of the first 20 matches live on pay-per-view over the four rounds that took place in October and November.

Other outlets with an earlier piece of the action were GolTV, which aired four matches on linear TV.

JumpTV, an Internet programmer, and Integrated Sports Media, which targets commercial establishments, showed all 20 matches on a pay basis.

In Demand Networks CEO Robert Jacobson said the property, featuring international soccer powers Brazil and Argentina, “gives us an opportunity to connect with more ethnic franchises and diversify our offerings.”

As South America doesn’t have the equivalent of the biennial European championships, this qualifying tournament “is the biggest soccer event for South Americans outside of the World Cup,” he added. “There are lot of nationals in places like New York and Miami where these matches are almost matters of life and death.”

Competition, resuming June 14, 2008, and concluding Oct. 14, 2009, will determine which five South American nations qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Ranked first in the world by the sport’s international governing body, Argentina is just ahead of No. 2 Brazil. FIFA currently rates Colombia No. 17 and Paraguay 21.

Through the early rounds, Paraguay leads the qualifying with 10 points, followed by Argentina’s nine and Brazil and Colombia with eight apiece. Venezuela (six points), Uruguay and Chile (four each), Ecuador (three), Peru (two) and Bolivia (one) round out the field.

For now, In Demand plans to offer games from each of the 14 remaining rounds at $29.99 per match, or the entire package for $700.

“My guess is that most of the buys will come on a per-game basis,” Jacobson said. “Brazilian fans may be deeply interested in their team, but maybe not as much for a Bolivia-Peru match.”

In Demand, which has experience marketing the English Premier League on a pay-per-view basis, also is considering other pricing options.

SCP partner Chris Bevilacqua said the SAWCP matches scored well for affiliates during the first four rounds.

“Both JumpTV and EchoStar had strong buy rates,” he said. “I think cable operators received a number of calls from subscribers about the matches and In Demand saw that. To its credit, In Demand stepped up when things opened up for the rest of the matches.”

Jacobson said In Demand tried to get involved in the first four rounds, “but things got overly complicated. It was our understanding that those games would only be on closed-circuit. In the end, it wound up on Dish, too. It was certainly something we wanted to be involved in.”

Bevilacqua expects others to join In Demand in the 70-game 2008-09 package. “There is interest from a number of distributors,” he said.

A spokesman for JumpTV, which offered SAWCQ matches individually, for all four rounds and by team, was not “prepared to discuss strategies at this time.”

EchoStar — which offered a 16-game package for $159.99, four-game sets for $59.99 and individual matches for $29.99 — wouldn’t tip its hand either.

“We remain pleased with the results as they met our expectations,” Dish vice president of programming Andy Karofsky said. “We’re always looking to provide programming that is of interest to our viewers, but we have nothing specific to share on future plans.”

Officials for two other key futbol proponents, Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN 360, the total sports network’s revamped broadband channel, declined to comment.