Tuesday was the day for the official unveiling of the sports media's worst-kept secret, Fox Sports 1. This was such a big deal for Fox it brought out its heaviest hitters, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Erin Andrews, Curt Menefee, Howie Long, Chris Myers, Darrell Waltrip, UFC President Dana White and Tim McCarver.
As one arrived at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York, Fox made sure you were aware that this was their event. Security was everywhere to ensure you didn’t see any Fox Sports 1 logos ahead of the official unveiling.
When the news conference began, former Fox Sports El Jefe del Mundo and current News Corp. Senior Executive Vice President David Hill came out to discuss the history of Fox Sports, how it grew from being Fox Sport and just having the NFL to being a multifaceted division with several major properties including MLB, NASCAR, the World Cup, UEFA Champions League and major college sports. Hill said that Fox had been thinking of creating a national sports network for 15 years and the time was right to launch the network. And although he downplayed his role, there’s no denying that without Hill, Fox Sports would not be in the position it is today without his chutzpah, his acumen and his ability to think outside the box.
After he introduced two videos, one showing the accomplishments of Fox Sports over the last twenty years, the other a “sizzle” reel, unveiling what would be seen on Fox Sports 1, Hill documented over the last six months Fox has been accumulating inventory for its new network including MLB regular season games and a role in the postseason, NASCAR Sprint Cup races which also includes Speed’s current inventory of NASCAR programming such as the Truck series, college football (Big 12, Conference USA and the Pac-12) and basketball (no announcement on the Catholic 7, but that’s expected very soon), UFC programming as well as some original talk shows. You can look at all the programming details for Fox Sports 1 here.
Hill handed the proceedings off to other Fox Sports executives and while he’s no longer in charge of day-to-day operations for the division, there’s no doubt he feels this is his baby. As Hill talked with reporters following the news conference, there was no doubting he was very proud of the people whom he left in charge.
Fox Sports Media Group co-Presidents and Chief Operating Officers Randy Freer and Eric Shanks both discussed how launching the new network would have an effect on the television landscape. Shanks told reporters viewers are “ready for an alternative to the establishment,” meaning ESPN. Freer and Shanks both stressed that FS1 would be that alternative and Fox’s track record would draw fans.
They both talked about Fox’s Seven Pillars for Fox Sports 1: College Basketball, College Football, MLB, NASCAR, NFL, UEFA Champions League and UFC. Most of this programming will have live action, except for the NFL. That will explained below.
As for original programming, Regis Philbin who will host a daily talk show at 5 p.m. ET called “Rush Hour” which would be similar to “The View” in which a panel of guests including reporters, athletes and fans would discuss the day’s events and issues. Regis held court with reporters pretending to have senior moments. In an answer to questions about appealing to the 18-49 demographic (which are warranted with a host in his 80s), Fox Sports officials pointed out that Live with Regis & Kelly led the 18-49 demo in daytime and his appeal to the younger generation.
Fox Sports also unveiled another talk program, “Fox Football Daily” which would follow “Rush Hour” utilizing the Fox NFL Sunday crew including Terry Bradshaw, Jay Glazer and rules analyst Mike Pereira. I asked Pereira about his role on the program. He said he hoped that he would have another platform to explain officiating and the rules of the game. However, nothing has been completely defined at this time. He did point out that Fox was using his name to promote the show, so he was hopeful to have a role on the program. (Perhaps showing the early, early stages some of these ideas are in.) It’s also expected that Erin Andrews would have a role on the show, but it was not clear what she would do.
With Fox having Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014, the executives were beaming with pride over the planned events on Fox Sports 1 during Super Bowl week. There will be several events with a New York theme as Super Bowl XLVIII will be played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Some of the events include a college basketball doubleheader played at the Barclays Center, a US Women’s Soccer game against Mexico at Red Bull Stadium and a UFC card on the night before the Super Bowl in Newark, NJ. It’s apparent that this will be the hard launch for Fox Sports 1 with promotions across all Fox platforms (Fox, Fox News, FX, Fox Sports Net, Fox Movie Channel, et. al).
When the press conference was over, a group picture of those in attendance was taken and you can see what a proud bunch they were. How they will feel in a year’s time will be determined by the success of the network.
At the network upfronts, the unveiling of Fox Sports 1 to advertisers at the Marquis Ballroom, the network brought out Erin Andrews in an attempted comedy sketch to unveil college football programming. Unfortunately it fell dead flat as she walked around the audience to “take questions” from various people, but Mike Pereira, Charles Davis, Joey Harrington and Eddie George will not be confused with the Saturday Night Live crew anytime soon.
Advertisers also saw the Fox NFL Sunday crew up close and Jay Glazer did a little better in an “insider” bit saying Randy Freer had a paper cut. And Rob Riggle had a taped bit about playing a cold weather Super Bowl in New Jersey that made reference to paying off mobsters to keep the power on at MetLife Stadium that played very well to the audience.
While the comedy was forced, the whole dog and pony show was to show advertisers they will get a bang for their buck if they buy time on Fox Sports 1. In addition, they got to see some of their favorite personalities.
The biggest show for advertisers came when UFC’s Dana White used Bruce Buffer to introduce fighters Anderson Silva, Ronda Rousey and Cain Velasquez to a myriad of smoke and lights. I felt for Bruce as he flew in Japan over the weekend to be at the event.
David Hill, Randy Freer and Eric Shanks gave the advertisers some idea of how they will be treated on Fox Sports 1. They stressed the younger demographics sports can reach and how sports can bring people together.
Along with MLB, NASCAR, college sports, the World Cup, and UEFA Champions League, if Fox Sports can attain rights to the NBA later this decade along with the Big Ten and U.S. Open Tennis, the network will be in very good shape going into the next decade. And let’s not forget that a package of Thursday night NFL games could very well be in play over the next couple of years.
David Hill told me that as long as there’s a demand for sports, there will be a need and Fox is supplying that need with live action. Hill says as long as there’s demand, sports will continue to be a valuable property for years to come. With Fox Sports 1 and later, Fox Sports 2, it appears that the networks are all in and will be supplied with plenty of inventory for years to come.