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The Challengers to ESPN’s Throne: Comcast Corporation (CMCSA), News Corp (NWSA)

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There’s a battle brewing on the sports landscape, and it’s going to be a big one. In one corner, we have the long standing champion The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) and their ESPN sports networks. Standing opposite ESPN are two companies that would love a piece of the pie, Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and News Corp (NASDAQ:NWSA).

Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA)

Tale of the Tape

The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) obviously has the upper hand when we look at the sports broadcasting landscape today. ESPN has an estimated 98 million subscribers in the United States alone. ESPN is a part of the Media Networks segment of The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS), a segment that made up 45% of revenues and around 66% of operating income in 2012 (10K PDF).

Comcast recently rebranded their Versus sports channel as the NBC Sports Network. This move happened almost as soon as Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) signed the papers to complete the 100% ownership transaction of NBCUniversal to the media group on March 19. Since then the only real results we have from the channel are that of the IndyCar opener, a race that garnered 388,000 viewers for the channel.

While News Corp (NASDAQ:NWSA) may not seem like a company that’s big into sports in the United States, they have a pretty extensive lineup of programming outside the US. In Australia and the UK, the company is a leader in the sports game. The company also recently acquired 49% of the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network.

Breakdown: News Corp

News Corp (NASDAQ:NWSA) in the United States owns the rights to a variety of sports. The company holds partial rights to the NFL through 2022, a contract with NASCAR for a collection of traces through 2022 and an MLB contract that will see them through 2021.

Outside of the United States News Corp (NASDAQ:NWSA) recently acquired the remaining 50% stake they had yet to buy in Fox Star Asia. They paid around $220 million for the channel that was formerly known as ESPN STAR Sports.

In November of 2012 News Corp (NASDAQ:NWSA) also acquired the remaining share of FOX SPORTS Australia that they did not own.

Combining those international acquisitions with the stateside acquisitions of SportsTime Ohio and the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network gives you quite a substantial media powerhouse.

Sports are only a minor part at this mega-conglomerate though. There’s also publishing, movies and other media-based interests that continue to bring in the cash year after year. Total revenues for the three months ended Dec 31, 2012 were $9.4 billion. That’s a gain of 5% over the same time in the prior year.

Investment in sports, especially if they decide to build a dedicated sports brand like Sky Sports in the United States, could pay off greatly for News Corp. It will be an uphill battle, though, especially with Comcast jumping into the game.

Breakdown: Comcast

Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) is providing you your cable boxes, and if all goes to plan they’ll soon be providing you with the sports programming that you watch on them.

As a Formula 1 fan, I found myself turning to channel 220 on my DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV) box to catch the latest Grand Prix. It was the new NBC Sports Network channel that Comcast had just rebranded after acquiring 100% of NBC from General Electric Company (NYSE:GE).

The network currently has the rights to the NHL, Indy Car and Formula One. These are some very niche brands in the sporting world, but it is a start. The network also has rights to some games of England’s Premier League, the pinnacle league in the world’s most watched sport. They’re hiring top talent to host the games as well, according to SBNation.

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