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THE DAILY PRESENTS THE 3RD SPORTS INDUSTRIALIST OF THE YEAR
Published December 16, 1997
When we look back on '97, one story in the sports industry clearly is the most interesting and consequential: the emergence of Fox Sports Net (FSN). In just 12 months, FSN -- now with access to 58 million homes and the local cable rights to more than 65 NBA, MLB and NHL teams -- has created a new world order for sports on cable; helped advertisers better understand regional sports; changed the economics of local rights fees; and, begun to give chase to ESPN, the gold standard for cable sports programming. But this quick ascent should be no surprise considering the vision, creativity and determination that News Corp. has shown when it comes to sports, entertainment and television. There are many people responsible for FSN and the entire Fox Sports portfolio, and ultimately, it all comes back to Rupert Murdoch. But, we think that there is one executive aside from Murdoch who has driven the entire Fox Sports brand to its position of legitimacy and influence. That executive and our choice to receive the 1997 SPORTS INDUSTRIALIST OF THE YEAR award is DAVID HILL. KING OF THE HILL: David Hill embodies every aspect of THE DAILY's vision for the sports industry and recognizes that sports is a global entertainment business. His career in entertainment is based on his success in sports and, for that matter, the success of Fox Television is rooted in sports as well. Hill joined Fox Broadcasting in 1993 to create and run Fox Sports. Under his direction, Fox Sports jumped off the drawing boards to become a full-fledged network sports division with rights to the NFL, NHL and MLB. In '96, Hill was promoted to President & COO of Fox Television, and this September he was named Chair & CEO of Fox Broadcasting Co., responsible for all distribution, programming, advertising sales, marketing and business affairs. Still, Hill continues to serve as President of Fox Sports, Chair of FSN and co-Executive Producer of all Fox Sports productions. This year he ranked No. 30 on ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's list of the "101 Most Powerful People in Entertainment," and he has been on THE SPORTING NEWS "100 Most Powerful" list for the last three years. Hill, Fox Sports and -- as a result -- Fox TV are all players. FOX ATTITUDE: Most would agree that Fox Sports knows how to "produce the big event" and has helped innovate television sports coverage. While some criticize its "in your face" attitude as too over the top, Fox -- under Hill's leadership -- has positioned itself as an organization with a hip, edgy and forward-thinking sensibility. The Fox Box, FoxTrax, FoxBots, in-base microphones and the Catcher-Cam have all helped change prevailing notions about graphic and production values for sports on TV; Fox broadcast teams have depth and talent; Fox pre-game programming knows how to deliver key demos; Fox advertising campaigns -- ranging from Spike Lee's NHL spots to "Fox House '97" -- get attention; and Fox is smart about leveraging promotional relationships with corporate partners such as 7-Eleven, MasterCard, Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Visa. With an eye on the future, Fox is looking hard at virtual ads, as well as a branded retail merchandise effort. Simply put, David Hill has built a great sports division. YEAR IN REVIEW: But our SPORTS INDUSTRIALIST OF THE YEAR award is not just about historical achievement. Recent success is a necessity and -- by any measure -- '97 was a staggering year for David Hill and Fox Sports. In JANUARY, Fox began its third season of NHL coverage with the 47th NHL All-Star Game; broadcast Super Bowl XXXI, the fourth-most watched TV program in history, earning a 43.3 rating/65 share with 128.9 million viewers; and, joined with Globosat to launch a 24-hour sports channel in Brazil. In APRIL, Fox Sports televised the first live, primetime rodeo event on a national broadcast network. In MAY, Fox Sports opened its second season of MLB coverage and broadcast Game One of the '97 Stanley Cup Finals, posting a 4.0 rating/8 share, reaching 17.8 million viewers and yielding the most-watched game in NHL history. In JUNE, Fox Sports and TCI's Liberty Media invested $850M to join forces with Cablevision's Rainbow Media Holdings to create a new national, regional and local supplier of sports programming. The deal put FSN into 55 million homes through 17 combined RSNs, with a stake in Madison Square Garden and holdings in Chicago, Florida, New England, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Ohio. In JULY, Fox Sports broadcast its first MLB All-Star Game, winning the night with an 11.4 rating/21 share, while FSN acquired rights to the Red Wings and Pistons and formed Fox Sports Detroit. In AUGUST, Fox Sports West and Anaheim Sports dismissed their legal actions against one another; Fox Sports Rocky Mountain agreed to pay $100M over seven years for rights to the Avalanche and Nuggets; Fox Sports broadcast its first tennis event; and, began its fourth season of NFL coverage. In SEPTEMBER, News Corp. reached an agreement with Dodgers Owner Peter O'Malley to purchase the team for over $300M, while FSN inked a three-year deal with the ABL for up to 24 games a season and a Sunday night game of the week. In OCTOBER, at the annual News Corp. meeting, Rupert Murdoch declared Fox Sports Net "the absolute key to our future"; Fox Sports and The Marment Group launched a new national sports tracking poll; Fox and New Regency Productions signed a 15-year, $200M deal; and Fox/Liberty reached a deal to acquire a majority stake in FiT TV. In NOVEMBER, Fox Sports World made its debut as a 24- hour English-language int'l sports channel for basic cable and digital platforms; Fox Sports Net Online, with a zip code-based search capability, was added to foxsports.com; FSN aired The Tiger Woods Invitational; and, Fox Sports gained rights to the Southwestern Bell Cotton Bowl, enabling Fox to broadcast its first college football game in '99. And, finally, in DECEMBER it was announced that SportsChannel Pacific, Chicago, New England, Ohio and New York will all be branded under the FSN name in early '98. All in all, not bad for a network sports division that did not exist four years ago. THE BIG PICTURE: When it launched in 1986, Fox Broadcasting had one show on 96 stations. Today, Fox has more than 200 affiliates and programs every night in primetime, late night on Saturday, weekdays and Saturday and Sunday mornings. Fox has also become a network with an eye for breakthrough shows, bringing to TV "The Simpsons," "Married ... With Children," "Beverly Hills 90210," "America's Most Wanted," "Cops," "In Living Color," "The X- Files" and "Ally McBeal." And, during this year's November sweeps, Fox -- under Hill's leadership -- finished second among adults 18-49 years-old, which VARIETY called "a stunning achievement that signals to a once-skeptical industry that the upstart 'fourth network' is now more than just a legitimate primetime player." So, what does sports have to do with all this? Everything. David Hill has been the key to success for Fox Sports, and Fox Sports has been a critical component of the network's success in entertainment programming. Even Murdoch himself has made it clear that "sports is the gatekeeper" and a central part of his own strategy for becoming the top global media company. While some News Corp. and Fox deals might not make sense on a quarter-to-quarter or short-term cash flow basis, Murdoch and his lieutenants run their business with a strategic vision and an eye on the entire planet. News Corp. may rank fourth among the media giants, and Fox may be the fourth network in the U.S., but both these positions have been attained largely because of sports -- which means they have been attained because of David Hill. We could not think of a more fitting recipient to receive our SPORTS INDUSTRIALIST OF THE YEAR award for 1997. THANK YOU: THE DAILY would like to thank our many clients who took the time to nominate their peers and colleagues for this year's award. We encourage you, and all of our subscribers, to participate again in '98 (THE DAILY).