SBJ/March 28-April 3, 2011/Media

College football coming to FX this fall

Sports programming will return to FX for the first time in five years later this year, as the network has committed to carry 14 college football games.

The games, which primarily will come from Fox Sports Net’s TV rights deals with the Big 12 and Pac-10 conferences, demonstrate that Fox is serious about adding more sports to the cable channel.

Shanks
“We will be opportunistic about what works for the FX brand and our rights holders,” said Fox Sports co-President Eric Shanks.

Fox executives previously have expressed interest in developing a broadcast model for FX featuring a mix of sports and entertainment. FX stripped sports from its schedule five years ago, after televising MLB games and NASCAR races. Recently Fox executives have been trying to figure out how to get them back on.

Earlier this year Fox Sports Chairman David Hill said, “There’s been very envious eyes cast at TNT from FX.” Fox executives believe live sports is a reason why TNT commands higher subscriber fees — more than $1 per subscriber per month to FX’s rate in the mid-40 cents range — as well as higher ratings.

FX’s college football plans mark a first step.

“College football has been a ratings powerhouse,” Shanks said, adding that FX is a good destination for these games. With a distribution of more than 99 million homes, FX is strongest with the younger, male demographic that also likes sports, Shanks added.

“We think it’s good to put sports on channels that typically are not dedicated sports networks because of the greater reach of the audience,” he said. “FX has a history of carrying big-time sports.”

In addition to the MLB games and NASCAR races, FX also has carried Fox sports events that run too long for the network window. Five years ago, FX allowed its NASCAR contract to lapse and began concentrating on producing edgy original shows.

Over the next several years, FX figures to be at the table as professional and college TV rights come up. The NFL and MLB’s current media rights deals expire after the 2013 season; NASCAR’s come due in 2014. Plus, Olympic bids for 2014 and 2016 are expected to start later this year.

Under Fox’s new plan, FX will run college football games at least one Saturday a week — from Sept. 3 through Dec. 3. The games will not have a dedicated time slot. Fox executives say they have the option to run games in late afternoons, prime time or late-night windows. That flexibility is important, Fox says, because it allows the channel to avoid ESPN’s exclusive windows. FSN still will carry a game from each conference weekly on its RSNs.

Fox does not have a specific schedule yet. It expects to make its first three selections by June. As the season wears on, FX will select games and times no more than 12 days out.

Most selections will come from the Big 12 and Pac-12, which adopts its new branding after Utah and Colorado join the conference; occasional Conference USA games could be selected, too. Fox’s broadcast channel has the rights to the Big 12 and Pac-12 championship games this year. FX is a likely destination for Conference USA’s championship game — though that game could be moved to Fox.

Fox hasn’t settled on who will be in the broadcast booth or its Los Angeles-based studio yet. It plans to host a halftime show from the studio, but has not decided on whether to run a pregame or postgame show.
Shanks said the telecast will have its own dedicated college football staff. But he said the Fox Sports’ animated robot Cleatus will be on the FX telecast.

“It’s not a big-time package unless you have Cleatus the robot or Digger,” Shanks said with a laugh.

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