SBD/August 16, 2013/Media

FS1 Ready To Take On ESPN, Though Fox Execs Know The Battle Could Take A While

Hill said FS1 can not be worried about failure as it prepares to take on ESPN
FS1 "appears to be the stiffest competition for ESPN" in recent memory, but the net has a "long way to go to match an empire that is nearly 35 years in the making," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. FS1 debuts Saturday and it "does not have nearly as many events, nor does it have an empire as large or revenue as immense as ESPN’s." But Fox execs are looking "less at the impossible task of knocking out ESPN than at establishing a competitive niche." They "look for inspiration within its own history of industry-altering start-ups: Fox News Channel in 1996." Fox Senior Exec VP David Hill: "The question now is the same you would have asked Roger Ailes when he started Fox News: how do you deal with the 800-pound CNN elephant in the room, and with MSNBC? You don’t worry about anybody else apart from yourself or whether you’re going to fail." Fox Sports co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks said, "We’re going to spend a lot of time in marketing on fun." He added while it is "not Saturday night laughs at the Chuckle Hut ... we feel there’s a place in the sports landscape for a positive, fun, enthusiastic fan perspective on sports." Sandomir notes FS1 "cannot divert too far from doing what is necessary to be a successful network: producing games and studio shows intelligently, and hiring people for the studio shows and game broadcasts who are enlightening, good company and maybe a lot of fun" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/16). Meanwhile, in California, Jim Carlisle writes FS1's "ability to make deals with every carrier before its first telecast is nothing short of remarkable." Those deals "should easily make it the most successful network launch in cable TV history" (VENTURA COUNTY STAR, 8/16).

LONG-TERM PLAY FOR FOX: Sports media blogger Ed Sherman wrote observers need to look "through a big picture when you evaluate" FS1, as the "larger view ... is more about 2023" rather than '13. Sherman: "Despite all the programming that is launching now, the new sports network is a long-term play for Fox" (SHERMANREPORT.com, 8/15). UFC President Dana White believes FS1 "has what it takes to reach its long-term aspirations." White: "Here's what, if you're ESPN, scares you about Fox: First of all, they've got money to go toe-to-toe for content, to pull in all the big sports and they're smart guys -- young and aggressive. Are they going to dive in and do this thing overnight? No, but they've got the staying power and game plan to grow and build" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 8/16). In Minneapolis, Neal Justin writes of the major networks, "Most believe there’s enough interest -- and enough sports -- to keep everybody in the game, especially since Fox’s soccer and UFC coverage will skew to a younger crowd" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 8/16).

GAMES WILL DRAW VIEWERS
: In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley writes live sports programming "is the magnet that attracts big numbers of viewers to ESPN, not shows with Chris Berman or Skip Bayless or Keith Olbermann." Those figures "have more to do with defining the network’s personality than with delivering earth-moving ratings numbers." Wolfley notes, "You can’t be a major all-sports network without some major sports broadcast properties." FS1 "does have major properties, including college football and basketball, including the new Big East telecasts" (JSONLINE.com, 8/15). Fox Sports Exec VP & Exec Producer Scott Ackerson said the net will be a success "if people watch." Ackerson: "People are going to watch big events, and we've got some pretty good events on Fox Sports 1. In terms of our studio shows, we succeed if we become a viable alternative and people say, you know, I want to watch this show" (CHRON.com, 8/15).

PROGRAMMING FOR FIRST DAY OF FOX SPORTS 1
TIME SLOT (ET)
PROGRAM/EVENT
6:00-7:00am
"Fox College Football Kickoff"
7:00-7:30am
"Fantastic Finishes"
7:30-8:00am
"Fantastic Finishes"
8:00-8:30am
"NASCAR Live"
9:00-9:30am
NASCAR Sprint Cup Practice
9:30-11:00am
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Qualifying
11:00am-12:00pm
NASCAR Sprint Cup Final Practice
12:00-12:30pm
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Setup
12:30-2:30pm
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Racing
2:30-3:00pm
"Fox Sports 1-on-1: Strahan-Brady"
3:00-3:30pm
"Fantastic Finishes"
3:30-4:30pm
"Fox College Football Kickoff"
4:30-5:00pm
"UFC Ultimate Insider"
5:00-6:00pm
UFC Fight Night Prefight: Shogun-Sonnen
6:00-8:00pm
UFC Fight Night Prelims: Shogun-Sonnen
8:00-11:00pm
UFC Fight Night: Shogun-Sonnen
11:00pm-2:00am
"Fox Sports Live"
   

LATE-NIGHT BATTLES: In Miami, Barry Jackson wrote the "most intriguing subplot" of FS1's launch is that "late-night sports television is about to become far more competitive." "SportsCenter's" only "serious competition at 11 p.m. were similar niche shows on NFL Network, MLB Network and NBA TV." Olbermann "likely will lure some viewers from SportsCenter with his new ESPN2 studio show," and FS1 "hopes to do the same with Fox Sports Live." In some ways, "Fox Sports Live" sounds "suspiciously like the late, not-so-great Best Damn Sports Show Period." However, Fox is "gambling that people will care" what retired athletes like Andy Roddick, Donovan McNabb and Gary Payton "have to say about all sports, not just those they played." Fox "realistically needs to do something different" than "SportsCenter" to have "any chance of attracting an audience." Whether this is the "right approach -- or the right cast -- remains to be seen" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 8/15). In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis writes the key for FS1 is the "chemistry" between "Fox Sports Live" co-hosts Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 8/16). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes what FS1 likely will have to endure "for a time is that in trying to tickle viewers’ funny bones every which way, it runs the risk of having other people making fun of it" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 8/16).

DIFFERENTIATING FROM "SPORTSCENTER": Ackerson said "Fox Sports Live" likely will be viewed as FS1's flagship show because it is "going to be a large part of our programming schedule." Ackerson: "We're going to have a great number of events, and that's going to be good, but a big chunk of it is going to be 'Fox Sports Live.'" He said the panelists on "Fox Sports Live" will help differentiate the show from "SportsCenter" because they can "talk about multiple sports and multiple topics." Ackerson: "The insight they can bring, not only about their particular sport, they also can talk intelligently about whether it's basketball or baseball or hockey. ... "SportsCenter" does a great job in terms of teaching America about how to play sports. You can learn a lot with that. In a different way, you will be able to get that with our show. It's just not going to be handled in an X's-and-O's type of fashion. I want to make it a little more inclusive" (Albany TIMES UNION, 8/16). "Fox Sports Live" co-host Ryan Field, who will work the show on Fridays and Saturdays, said, "We’re talking about that night’s events as they happen with our panel. That puts us one step ahead and the viewers are getting everything they need to know right there in the moment as opposed to having to wait to see (ESPN’s) 'Pardon the Interruption' or 'Around the Horn' the next day and hear them talk about what’s happening the night before" (DETROIT NEWS, 8/16).

AN ADJUSTMENT FOR RACE FANS: In Michigan, Steve Kaminski wrote FS1 officials are "confident that the transition" from SpeedTV to the new channel "will be a smooth one for race fans." Fox broadcaster Rick Allen said that a "number of the popular NASCAR programs will find a new home" on FS1. Allen: "Everyone says that Speed is going away, but really, we are changing our name. Speed always has been a Fox Sports entity. Our coverage is going to stay the same, and in some areas, it will increase." FS1 spokesperson David Harris said that the net will have "plenty of motorsports coverage in addition to NASCAR." He added that it will "include Monster Energy Supercross, select ARCA Series races, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, Lucas Oil Motorsports, the Rolex Sports Car Series and the MotoGP World Championship" (MLIVE.com, 8/15).
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