Fox Sports to launch new national cable network

Fox Sports 1Move over ESPN, you’ve got some competition.

Fox Sports announced Tuesday at a upfront presentation the launch of a brand-new national all-sports network known as Fox Sports 1. The “worst kept secret” was unveiled at an upfront presentation to the media and advertisers in New York City. The net plans to debut in 90 million homes on August 17, replacing motorsports channel Speed (in Chicago at least, Xfinity has Speed on a separate sports tier.)

“Our secret, admittedly a very poorly kept one, is now revealed,” said Fox Sports Media Group co-president and co-COO Eric Shanks. “Fans are ready for an alternative to the establishment, and our goal for FS1 is to provide the best in-game experience possible, complemented by informative news, entertaining studio shows and provocative original programming.”

Among the new offerings Fox Sports 1 has up its sleeve include a daily 4 p.m. (CT) sports panel show hosted by Regis Philbin – yes, that same Regis, who spent more than 30 years on morning television and also known as host of Millionaire. Next is Fox Football Daily, an hour-long strip featuring Fox’s NFL pre-game show of Curt Menefee, Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Erin Andrews, and Jay Glazer, which aims to take on ESPN’s popular NFL Live, which airs year-around and programming on the NFL Network.

In addition, a nightly sports news show titled Fox Sports Live is planned to air opposite SportsCenter, nightly at 10 p.m., or after live events, and a morning sports news show in scheduled to launch in early 2014, the week of Super Bowl XLVIII (which Fox is the rightsholder.) FS1 plans to draw off content from its 22 regional sports channels (the closest one to Chicago is Fox Sports Wisconsin.)

Fox Sports 1 unveiled the “7 Key Sports Pillars” as the backbone of their new network: The NFL, Major League Baseball, UFC, NASCAR, college football and basketball, and soccer. Here’s some detail:

– Effective in 2014, FS1 gets the majority of MLB Saturday Afternoon games of the Week, with Fox getting only 12 weeks a year. FS1 also plans to air League Division and Championship games, moving them off Fox, so their would be lessened conflict with its entertainment programming. FS1 also plans to air a live look-in show to compete with ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.

– Fox plans to air exclusive college football games from the Big 12, Pac 12, and Conference USA on Thursday nights and much of the day on Saturdays, and exclusive Monday and Thursday basketball games from the same conferences, along with weekend coverage. Also waiting in the wings: College basketball from the newly formed “Catholic 7”, which includes DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown, and Butler (details surrounding the league’s TV deal and the conference’s name are still being worked out…)

– Several NASCAR races now on Fox are expected to shift over to FS1 in 2015, in addition to a new daytime strip planned devoted to NASCAR news. FS1 also plans extensive pre and post-coverage of the Daytona 500. Other NASCAR shows plans include NASCAR Race Day, a studio pre-race show airing before each race and NASCAR Victory Lane, a wrap-up show.

– Even though Fox lost the rights popular Premier League Soccer (rights shift to NBC/Comcast next year), FS 1 still has the rights UEFA matches from the Champions and Europa leagues; and soccer games from CONCACAF. But more importantly, FS1 and Fox have the rights to the FIFA Men’s and Women’s World Cup, beginning in 2015.

– Male-skewing UFC programming will be featured on Wednesday nights, with live matches scheduled through 2014 (with the first match scheduled on FS1’s first night) with an in-studio show (UFC Tonight) planned.

In addition, Fox plans to launch a new mobile app called Fox Sports Go, which would enable the user to view Fox Sports content on mobile devices. And in order to keep viewers engaged during commercials, FS1 plans to use the Double Box, which has action in one screen and an ad running in another with the advertiser’s name draped in the background (Fox is using this method throughout this season’s NASCAR coverage.)

There were rumors of Fox launching a second sports channel called Fox Sports 2 to replace Fuel, but there was no mention during the upfront presentation, meaning the extreme sports channel is safe – for now as Fox could launch FS2 later down the road.

Analysis: The unveiling of Fox Sports 1 Tuesday was impressive, and is using existing sports properties it owns to build a national sports network.

Keep in mind however, they’ve tried this before: in 1996, Fox tried to use its regional sports networks and other RSNs to build a national sports network, even acquiring stakes in Rainbow’s Sportschannel RSNs (including Sportschannel Chicago) to rebrand themselves as Fox Sports Net. Fox hired Keith Olbermann to front a nightly national news shows with the awfully generic-sounding National Sports Report for its regional sports networks and affiliates, followed by the even-worse sounding [your city, state, or regional area here] Sports Report.

This time around, it looks like Fox has gotten it right. They have an exciting lineup planned to keep sports fans informed and entertained. But some questions remain: the network is replacing Speed, which is on a separate tier on many systems. Are MSOs willing to add another sports channel at a time many consumers are complaining about high cable bills? (ESPN reportedly costs around $5 a subscriber. )

Another good sign is Fox’s commitment to a nightly news show. Aside from the National Sports Report, Fox Sports did produce a Sunday night sports wrap-up show for FX during the 1995-96 season and the now-defunct FSN Final Score, a highlight-intensive show – both solid programs. ESPN has been criticized for a lack of sports highlights, notably involving the NHL and MLS and instead, focusing on stories like grown men playing “tag” which was featured Sunday (what’s next? A piece on the Showcase Showdown wheel used on The Price Is Right?) Yes, another sports news show is needed to combat the increasingly inane SportsCenter. But taking on the task of dethroning the sports news ratings king is going to be no easy task.

While Fox should get props for airing original programming on a daily basis, can someone tell me why 81-year old Regis Philbin is getting a sports panel talk show? What, Phil Donahue wasn’t available? At least they didn’t bring back The Best Damn Sports Show, which it clearly wasn’t.

Another plus is moving select baseball games over to FS1 and not conflicting with Fox’s entertainment programming in October. But you have to wonder if Fox affiliates would be happy losing baseball games and NASCAR races to cable.

In order for FS1 to compete against ESPN, it needs more premium content, such as the NBA as Ed Sherman points out since their rights are the next up for bids. Adding a few mid-major conference college basketball games (from the Missouri Valley, Horizon League, etc.) wouldn’t hurt and neither would some college or even minor-league hockey. Overall, yours truly likes Fox Sports’ plan to compete against ESPN on their own turf. Yes, it will take time, but if anyone can take down The Worldwide Leader in BS, these guys can – just don’t bring back Tom Arnold or the glowing hockey puck.

Updated at 5:44 p.m. (corrected name and updated status of former nightly FSN wrap-up show.)


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    • NASCAR’s headquarters are located in Daytona Beach, Florida, although it also maintains offices in four North Carolina cities; Charlotte, Mooresville, Concord, and Conover.*..**

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