For nearly two decades, David Hill was Fox Sports.
The Australian TV executive with an outsized personality launched the division in 1993. From the beginning, Fox Sports reflected Hill: It was loud, brash and abhorred convention.
|Fox Sports has long reflected Hill’s personality.
Executives with Fox Sports’ main partners, the NFL, MLB and NASCAR, say they anticipate few changes in the way Fox does business.
The reason: Co-presidents Randy Freer and Eric Shanks have been handling Fox Sports’ day-to-day operations for nearly two years.
“David leaves Fox Sports in great hands,” said Howard Katz, senior vice president of NFL broadcasting and media operations. “Knowing David as I do, he wouldn’t be making this move and taking on these new challenges without being completely confident in the entire management team he’s built at Fox Sports.”
When Hill promoted Freer and Shanks to be co-presidents in January 2011, he said they would manage Fox Sports’ business, with Freer becoming more involved in network decisions and Shanks becoming more involved in the regional sports network decisions.
There have been clues in the last year that Hill was not long for Fox Sports. While he was part of Fox’s Olympic bid last summer, he did not travel to Zurich for the network’s World Cup bid later that year. And he has not played a big part in Fox’s MLB negotiations, sources said.
Under Freer and Shanks, Fox has begun to focus more on its cable assets, and sources say Fox still is considering turning Speed into an all-sports channel. The two executives cut a deal with UFC and stocked Fuel TV with its content. And they decided to bring back sports to FX’s schedule.
“David has been at the center of everything Fox Sports has accomplished over the last two decades,” Freer said. “David will always be the heart and soul of Fox Sports.”
While saying they didn’t expect changes, sports executives still lamented the loss of one of sports TV’s most colorful characters
|1999: Hill with (from left) Dick Ebersol, Brian France and Mark Lazarus, as Fox became a NASCAR television partner for the first time.
“David is an extremely creative guy and is very resourceful,” said MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. “You stop and think about Fox Sports, which had no history, and he did a remarkable job not only relative to baseball. We spent a lot of time with him on the marketing of baseball. David leaves a real legacy of creativity and resourcefulness that carried Fox Sports a long way.”
NASCAR CEO Brian France echoed those remarks.
|2002: Introducing Joe Buck as Fox’s lead play-by-play announcer for NFL football, taking over for Pat Summerall.
“He’s a pioneer,” France said. “He was the first one at News Corp. to really believe in NASCAR, that we could elevate the coverage in lots of clever ways. Knowing David, he’ll be back in sports at some point down the road. He’s left before with DirecTV. He’s been great for us.”
Kevin O’Malley, a former executive at CBS and Turner, was the TV consultant who negotiated a four-year deal for the BCS with Fox for the years 2007-10. ESPN/ABC had held the BCS rights, but the incumbent decided to take a hard-line stance against increasing rights fees
|2004: Ten years after the beginning of Fox Sports, Hill had established it as an engine of innovation in sports TV.
O’Malley said the negotiations with Fox were fast-paced and culminated in a deal after just three or four meetings. Hill was centrally involved from the beginning.
“Fox was a game-changer for network TV,” O’Malley said. “David brought this really hard-charging attitude to network sports business. With all of their FSN regionals, Fox had a cable presence in college sports and big Fox gave them the network presence they needed. David amalgamated big Fox and the regionals into one big sports presence and it’s one of the reasons they’re such a force in the business today, that combination of network and cable exposure.”
|2006: Hill at the NFC championship game in Seattle with NFL EVP (and now commissioner) Roger Goodell (left) and Fox Sports’ Ed Goren.
Hill’s legacy mainly is on-screen, where he changed the way Americans view sports.
He energized the way sports was presented on TV, from the advent of the Fox Box — the permanent on-screen graphic detailing the score and time remaining, which was soon copied by competitors — to the First & Ten line, to the controversial FoxTrax glowing puck and the first in-track camera positions during NASCAR races.
Katz, a longtime friend of Hill’s, credited Hill with “raising the bar throughout the industry.”
|2012: Back at the NFC championship game in San Francisco, which turned out to be his last at Fox Sports.
“David Hill is one of the most unique characters ever to grace the stage of sports broadcasting,” Katz said. “His creativity, leadership and vision, combined with his wit and charm and his irreverent and larger-than-life persona, has changed the landscape of sports television. He pushed the envelope from the first day he set foot at Fox and has led the way with respect to innovation, both in technology and overall game presentation.”
Staff writers John Lombardo, Tripp Mickle and Michael Smith contributed to this report.