Discovery challenges Fox, ESPN with U.S. launch of Eurosport block on Velocity

ESPN and Fox Sports may face new competition from Discovery Communications (Nasdaq: DISCA), which said it will soon launch a motorsports programming block on its Velocity network supplied by European all-sports network Eurosport.

When Discovery announced last December that it would buy a 20 percent stake in Eurosport for $220 million, CEO David Zaslav said the company didn't plan to launch a U.S. sports network. "The U.S. sports business is completely different," Zaslav said, pointing to the "huge checks" networks have to write to acquire sports programming. "I don't see us getting into that business in the U.S.," he added.

But the two-hour "Eurosport on Velocity" block the network plans to run on Saturday afternoons, beginning Sept. 28, appears to be the beginning of a larger expansion of Eurosport programming in the United States. "We're delighted our TV channel's initial programming steps into the U.S. will be on our stakeholder's channel, Velocity," Eurosport Group CEO Jean-Thierry Augustin said in a prepared statement.

Discovery converted Discovery HD Theater into Velocity in October 2011. It bills Velocity as an "upscale men's cable network that provides high-octane programming." Velocity's programming lineup already features several shows that could appeal to motorsports fans, including four-part series "Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans," which tracks the "Grey's Anatomy" star as he prepares to race in the 24-hour endurance race in France.

Eurosport's move comes less than one month after Fox Sports converted motorsports network Speed into Fox Sports 1. With FS1 offering fewer hours of motorsports programming, Discovery and Eurosport could look to fill the void by expanding the amount of race coverage on Velocity.

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