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Volume 23 No. 13
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Pedigree part of pitch for Fox Sports 1

Fox Sports actively is positioning Fox Sports 1 to sports industry insiders, and the message is clear: We have the pedigree to compete with ESPN where others do not.

Network officials have been showing league and conference executives a “sizzle reel” that offers detailed plans about the company’s forthcoming all-sports channel.

Sources who have seen the five- to 10-minute-long video describe it as slickly produced and say it provides the clearest sign yet that Fox plans to rebrand its motorsports channel Speed, which is in 81 million homes, into Fox Sports 1 and launch by August.

Fox executives have not formally announced its plans around the channel.

But the promotional piece shows that Fox is far along in its planning for the channel, which it is positioning as a potential competitor to ESPN. The main theme is that, unlike others, Fox has the background to compete against the sports behemoth. Among examples: It highlights Fox as the company that broke the ABC/CBS/NBC broadcast TV monopoly in 1986 to launch its own TV network. It also points to Fox News, which launched in 1996 against a dominant CNN.

To underscore the notion that Fox Sports 1 plans to compete with ESPN, sources say the video includes a focus group of mostly men talking about their desire to have a competitor to ESPN. They complain about its perceived East Coast bias and programming like the ESPYs, sources say. When asked which network is best suited to offer competition, each answers “Fox.”

Sources say the video focuses on the channel’s live-game programming, which will come from rights deals with MLB, NASCAR, college basketball and football, soccer and UFC.

In addition to live games, the video talks about studio programming, mentioning a potential show hosted by Jay Glazer and another one described as a late-night alternative to “SportsCenter.”

League executives were especially intrigued by a plan that would run in-game advertising as part of a “double box” — an ad that runs in a box on-screen alongside the event footage, even during timeouts and other stoppages. When a game goes to commercial, a second box will pop up showing the ads, with video from the stadium or arena in a smaller box still on the screen.

League executives were told the channel will launch in August, but they expect its big coming-out party to be the following January, the week before Super Bowl XLVIII in New York.

Fox Sports holds the rights to that game and the video says Fox Sports 1 plans to carry several New York-based events in the run-up to the game. It’s impossible to confirm the events so far in advance, but the sizzle reel specifically mentions college basketball games, a U.S. women’s national soccer team game from Yankee Stadium and a UFC event from the Prudential Center, sources said.

At a sports media conference in New York this month, Fox Sports co-President Eric Shanks said Fox had no plans to formally announce the channel any time soon. “The leadership at Fox, Chase [Carey] and Rupert [Murdoch], have been big believers in sports driving value for a really long time,” he said. “We have conversations all the time about what’s the best mix of programming and the portfolio, the names of channels. Still, I think that we’re in that process of deciding what’s the best thing to do.”