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Volume 20 No. 42
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What ‘shadow week’ taught Fox Sports

On a Saturday morning earlier this month — at 2:30 a.m. local time — Bill Wanger, Fox Sports Media Group’s executive vice president of programming and research, arrived at the Fox lot. Several members of his team already were in the building where Fox was planning to go live with its new channel, Fox Sports 1. Wanger’s first stop was the master control room, where he made sure staffers were all good and had everything they needed.

At 3 a.m. PT, a switch was flipped, and Fox Sports 1 went “live.” But only a handful of people could see it. That’s because Fox Sports 1 wasn’t launching for a week. It was Aug. 10, and Fox launched a shadow feed — a 24-hour dress rehearsal to allow producers to tinker with programming.

SportsBusiness Journal media reporter John Ourand spoke with Wanger last week on lessons learned during the shadow week.

Johnny Manziel was a big topic last week. How did your shows handle it?

WANGER: “Crowd Goes Wild,” which is going to be a sports/comedy, sports/entertainment type show, took a different angle with Johnny Manziel. They got a handwriting expert in yesterday and discussed what Johnny Manziel’s handwriting says about him as a person. “Crowd Goes Wild” has a different slant on things. They are going to have a different take on Johnny Manziel. … “Fox Sports Live” reported on what happened with Johnny Manziel. But there, you’re going to have our panel of experts that will have a unique perspective on it. It’s people that are recognizable: future hall of famers and all-stars.

Another big story was in Washington, D.C., with Robert Griffin III questioning Mike Shanahan’s strategy.

WANGER: RG3 was great on our air. We had Donovan McNabb, who played for Mike Shanahan. Donovan has a unique perspective on what’s going on with Mike Shanahan and RG3 because he was there. He was in the organization. That’s just one example of what we can bring to the table.

What have you learned from the shadow week?

WANGER: The No. 1 thing is the ability for our producers to see what’s working, to see what’s not working. We want them to get the work flow down because there’s a lot of workflow issues in the control room. The second thing is in the guts of the building and the guts of the channel — the internal architecture. We have news breaks scheduled. We have [10-second interstitials called] stingers scheduled. We have commercials. All these need work. We need dry runs at it.

Can you give specifics?

WANGER: “SportsCenter” has a rundown on the left side. We call that a wing. Ours is on the right side. We don’t always have a rundown for what’s coming up next. Sometimes we have interesting information and extra information about what the talent is talking about.

During shadow week, how aware were you of ESPN and NBCSN?

WANGER: When we’re in the control room during “Fox Sports Live,” of course we had on ESPN because you want to see how they covered a story or when they got to a story. You are absolutely monitoring the competition.

What will viewers like?

WANGER: Viewers will see a fresh take on sports or a fresh look. The channel is going to look different. There’s going to be a lot of personality on the channel.

What else should we expect?

WANGER: We’re going to make mistakes. People will probably overreact to our initial ratings. Our ratings are going to be small. All new channel ratings are small. It will take people a little bit of time to get used to the channel and know where to find it. We have no grand illusions of coming out here and being a behemoth. This is going to take a long time. I always say our success will be measured in years, not days, weeks or months.