SBJ/March 11-17, 2013/Media

His key role in new channel proves Fox Sports isn’t over Hill

John Ourand
One of the biggest surprises I took away from the planned Fox Sports 1 launch is the central role David Hill has taken in its development.

After all, it was just seven months ago that I wrote Hill’s corporate obituary. That was in July 2012, when Fox Sports announced that Hill was leaving the division he created in 1994 to take a broader international programming role at News Corp.

But last week, Hill was front and center at Fox Sports’ press conference announcing the channel and was the first executive to speak at the advertising upfront presentation later in the day. He was introduced at the upfront as “the godfather of Fox Sports.”
“I’ve been dragged back from the cobwebs,” he joked. “I would describe myself as a consigliere to [Fox Sports co-Presidents] Eric [Shanks] and Randy [Freer].”

For much of the past decade, Hill has contemplated launching an all-sports network under the Fox Sports banner. In the seven months since he took on a different role with News Corp., Hill has still been in the middle of the network’s plans to launch an ESPN competitor.

“I’ve been dragged back from the cobwebs. I would describe myself as a consigliere to Eric and Randy.”
David Hill
“The Godfather of Fox Sports”
Photo: WILLIAM HAUSER / FOX SPORTS 1
In particular, Fox executives said Hill has stayed busy developing the programming vision for the new network. Hill also has focused on making sure the network has what insiders call the “Fox Sports attitude” — both on screen and in the executive offices.

It was noteworthy that during Fox Sports 1’s upfront presentation last week, it took shots at NBC for its NHL ratings and lampooned ESPN for covering Tim Tebow too much. (A video was shown that featured a robot that repeated the name “Tim Tebow” over and over).

“Shame on us if David was around and you didn’t actually use everything that’s in his brain and everything that’s in his mind to launch the next generation of Fox,” Shanks said. “What would have been the alternative? Not having him? How crazy would that be? ‘Why doesn’t David Hill have anything to do with Fox Sports 1?’ That would have been a bigger story.”

Fox executives say Hill’s biggest contribution will be seen in the studio shows, particularly the weekday 5-7 p.m. block that will consist of Regis Philbin’s “Rush Hour” and “Fox Football Daily,” which will star “NFL on Fox” talent. Hill also developed “Fox Sports Live,” the “SportsCenter” competitor that Fox Sports 1 will run nightly at 11 p.m.

“He’s kind of like our godfather. It’s great to have him come back in the fold,” said Bill Wanger, Fox Sports’ executive vice president of programming and research.

Hill did leave Fox Sports last summer. He’s been spending much of his time working with Star India CEO Uday Shankar to launch three sports channels, including one focused on cricket.

“I’ve been spending my time worrying about programming in India for the last six months,” Hill said. “And I’m going to go back there in two weeks’ time.”

In catching up with Hill after last week’s press conference, he at first deflected questions about his role in Fox Sports 1, saying that Freer and Shanks would be better served to answer them. But the more he started talking about the channel, the more animated he became. It’s clear he has a passion for the channel and believes it will be a competitor to ESPN in the next several years.

“I would like to see us break even in 2 1/2 years,” he said. “But for the first couple of years, there will be losses.”

It’s clear that Hill feels that he has a blank canvas with Fox Sports 1 and is energized about creating content that will resonate with viewers.

Fox Sports executives also seemed energized with the knowledge that Hill was back in the fold on such an important initiative.

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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