Launching a new sports channel is not for the faint at heart. With the juggernaut of ESPN, few, if any, can take a serious run at capturing market share, although expanding the market could be in the cards. Success is about time and money in the network-building business, and how quickly a new network can convert programming into audience, ad dollars and subscription revenue. This month, Fox Sports 1, formerly the Speed channel, will become a new, 24-hour sports network in approximately 90 million homes across America. Its message to sports-crazed audiences is about getting back to “fun” and not being ESPN. I’m a proponent of new sports networks, because it’s good for audiences, advertisers, sports rights holders, and the sports industry as a whole.
Sports Audiences Rejoice
When were sports not fun? But, if Fox Sports 1 can re-define it and own it, then more power to them. When it comes to sports, the Fox Sports franchise has a lot to offer viewers. The new channel will keep motorsports fans happy with continued NASCAR coverage, (Fox still has rights to the first half of the Nationwide Series races, regardless of NBC’s recent rights purchase with NASCAR). Fox also owns the rights to MLB post-season games and the World Series, so expect plenty of supplemental coverage around that relationship. Add in college football, international soccer games, UFC fights and the 2018 and 2022 World Cup for premium consistency. Let’s not forget that Fox has the rights to the reigning championship event, the Super Bowl in February of 2014, so expect Fox Sports 1 to take Super Bowl week to a whole new level. Fox has traditionally won with the NFL; therefore, it will remain a cornerstone.
Fox Sports 1’s landmark highlight show, “Fox Sports Live,” has put together an All-Star mix of programming and talent to compete against ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” This marquee effort will be crucial to Fox’s longevity as a threat to ESPN. Don’t expect the reincarnation of “Best Damn Sports Show.” The new format showcases personality from talent including: former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton, former U.S. Tennis star Andy Roddick and even former ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor, Charissa Thompson. New networks are also great for the job market of emerging and celebrity-type sportscasters. In fact, look at the new contract ESPN just gave to Keith Olbermann as a counter-punch to the new competition. In general, FS1 has a serious programming mix that can carry ad dollars throughout the calendar year.
Rights Holders Salivate
With this stockpile of broadcasting rights and programming, it seems as though marketers will have a solid choice, to be “charter advertisers” in the upstart channel. That’s media lingo for “I was here first so take care of me later.” Does this mean FS1 will attract ad dollars away from current king ESPN? Not right away, but, Fox has officially made it more interesting for ESPN as bidding competition increases for coveted sports broadcasting and cable rights. We also need to factor in NBC Sports, which has the upcoming Winter Olympics, and is making a big push in soccer with MLS and the newly purchased rights to the English Premier League, along with a major pillar forming with the recent NASCAR rights win over ESPN.
One league that will have favorable options to consider will be the NBA, whose deal with ESPN is up after the 2015-16 season, and is expected to announce a new media deal in the latter half of next season. ESPN has been a great partner for the NBA. But, as we saw with FIFA World Cup rights, being a great partner is not the primary factor when considering the continuation of the relationship. The NBA executives certainly know the leverage they hold, we could see a bidding war the likes of which we haven’t ever seen before.
Just Be Fox Sports
I can assure you that sports will remain fun, regardless of the network. While many want to point out the epic battle that will ensue between ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and NBC for potential viewers, as a sports marketer I can do nothing but smile. This is good for the industry, and more importantly, great for fans. The new competition will force networks to work harder than ever to present the absolute best product possible. If Fox Sports 1 believes it can add value to sports fans with quality programming and their unique style, let them take their best shot, because there is still plenty of room for growth in all things sports.