With the August 2013 launch of Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports Media Group entered the fray of 24/7 sports programming in a very big, very expensive way. Though rankled race fans were displeased with the elimination of the Speed channel, Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and sister station Fox Sports 2 (FS2), are necessary gambles to compete with NBC (NBC Sports), CBS (CBS Sports Network) and ABC (ESPN). But keeping up with the Joneses is expensive. The cost of broadcasting rights has never been higher and big money contracts are needed to hire Fox’s talent, including the likes of Brian Urlacher, Donovan McNabb, Jay Glazer, Kyle Petty and Regis Philbin. Will Fox’s latest big play in sports programming payoff?
Early viewership ratings for Fox Sports 1 aren’t staggering. Its biggest numbers thus far – recorded from November 4 through November 10 of 2013 – had the channel averaging 630,000 viewers (prime time) and 157,000 viewers (total day). A drop in the pond compared to the mammoth numbers of sports media giant, ESPN. But Fox is not striving for day-one dominance with the channel’s launch. The media giant understands how to apply the ‘marathon not a sprint’ mentality to obtaining viewership victory. And it knows that its trump cards will be played strategically to slowly win over fans and bring additional dollars to the news media conglomerate. Along with CBS, the Fox network hosts the most NFL games from week-to-week. That strong bond along with Fox’s connections to NASCAR, Major League Baseball and UFC give it a prime platform to promote its Fox Sports 1 channel. Fox Sports Media Group had the long-game in mind when it decided to replace Speed and FUEL TV with FS1 and FS2. Much like ABC did not expect Jimmy Kimmel Live! to immediately win over late night fans, executives at Fox don’t expect FS1 to completely strip ESPN of its loyal audience. But Kimmel eventually found his slice of the late night pie and then stepped into direct competition with Leno and Letterman in the summer of 2012. With Fox Sports 1, mindshare will develop over time with heavy promotion on Fox’s primary station coupled with quality programming. It doesn’t intend to take over the top spot from ESPN but leapfrogging CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports in the ratings within the next year or two is not out of the question. Better on-air talent, high production value and great live events count for a lot when fans decide where to turn their attention. Don’t be mistaken, this will cost Fox Sports Media Group money. A lot of money. And much criticism because launching a major 24/7 sports network involves growing pains. But the eventual payoff will be well worth it for a media company that wants to fully immerse itself in end-to-end sports programming.
One-upmanship is the name of the game in sports media. Technology – computing power, data storage capacity, cloud capabilities – continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Analytical tools and statistical application in sports is only becoming more prominent. Video quality and streaming possibilities get better-and-better. And procuring live sports programming content gives instant credibility to any fledgling network. In sports, the ability for a television network to harness technology, analytics and new video capabilities future proofs it and sets itself apart from the crowd. The sets utilized on Fox Sports 1 are vibrant – bright monitors, comfy chairs, warm carpeting, and dark wood accents – complimenting the relaxed feel of its shows nicely. Hosts and analysts have the latest stat packages and analytical breakdowns available to them so they sound smart and well-prepared. And Fox offers fans mobile apps to watch live while on-the-go and keep up with news and scores when they can’t tune in at home. Slick smartphone apps and great set designs on capable shows like Fox Sports Live and Fox Football Daily aren’t enough in the content-is-king business. Fox gets that. College football and basketball, NASCAR, international soccer and UFC along with Major League Baseball (2014), the U.S. Open (2015) and World Cup Soccer (2018) provide a bounty of content to capture the attention of fans of all sorts. Executives at Fox Sports Media Group realize it’s not just about who tunes in today. It’s about presenting an amazing, fresh platform as an alternative to ESPN’s news channel-like broadcasts, promoting the hell out of itself, sucking in viewers with must-watch live sports and building a long-term, loyal fan base.