SBD/July 19, 2013/Media

FS1 Sees Self As Underdog To ESPN, Wants To Bring "Funny, Irreverent" Approach

The plan for Fox Sports 1 is to be the "funny, irreverent, less serious sports channel," according to Karl Taro Greenfeld of BUSINESSWEEK. Fox Senior Exec VP David Hill said, "We are very much the underdog, and we have to convince the sports-viewing public that what we have on offer is better -- or as good as -- what ESPN has been offering. We have to create a personality.” Fox Sports since '10 has committed nearly $9B to "secure the rights" to the Big 12 Conference, the Big Ten Football Championship, UEFA Champions League, NASCAR, the FIFA World Cup, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, MLB and UFC. Currently there are "only about 60 employees, compared with ESPN’s 6,600." Producers have been "studying how to reinvent the format." Fox has done "extensive focus group research, interviewing thousands of sports fans and asking them which existing media group could develop a potential competitor to ESPN." Fox execs were "growing tired of ESPN’s stat-happy approach and wanted a funnier, more irreverent take -- hence 'jockularity.'” Fox Sports Senior VP & Head of Marketing Robert Gottlieb said, “If you look at a show like SportsCenter, there’s a seriousness to it that is reminiscent of old pregame shows. We feel like we can come in and give you the same information, but do it in a way that is so much more entertaining and fun." The structure of "Fox Sports Live," which will "feature the usual highlight packages along with guests and analyses, depends heavily" on hosts Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole’s "schtick." O'Toole said, “Our humor is going to take some time. We’re not going to come in there and stuff it down people’s throats, but Jay Onrait is very unpredictable. He may drop his pants.”

SURPRISE! Around the FS1 offices, the "words 'fun' and 'irreverent' are thrown around to describe everything." The net will place a "higher value on surprise, which explains why" 81-year-old Regis Philbin will host "Crowd Goes Wild," an hour-long "talk and interview show airing daily" at 5:00pm ET. Fox is "building a set at the Chelsea Piers sports facility, on Manhattan’s West Side, from which Philbin, a passionate Yankee and Notre Dame fan, can opine on the issues of the day." But Greenfeld wonders, "Do viewers really want their sports coverage to be funny?" That is an "open question, and one that Hill admits may require some reconsideration." News Corp. COO Chase Carey said, "We've done a lot of startups. I think we know that part of it is going to be a learning exercise." Data from SNL Kagan shows that FS1 in '14 will "earn about" 80 cents per subscriber. But the "investment is unlikely to be viewed as successful until it crosses the $1-per-subscriber threshold." Considering that Fox News "generates $1.25, it’s a plausible goal, but getting there may require an even larger investment in rights fees." The "holy grail would be to broaden its deal with the NFL; Fox executives are already seeking to slice off part of the Thursday night package currently on the NFL Network." Hill: "We like to think we can create something unique from Day One, but it's an art, not a science. ... All we have to do is get on the air and see what's right and what's wrong" (BUSINESSWEEK, 7/18).
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