We continue our series on Fox Sports 1 with an interview with network General Manager and Chief Operating Officer David Nathanson. He’s been a Fox veteran and was instrumental in acquiring the FIFA World Cup for the network. Nathanson was promoted to GM and COO in December 2013. He continues to be in charge of Fox Soccer Plus while running Fox Sports 1.
As Fox Sports 1 is celebrating its first anniversary, Awful Announcing interviewed Nathanson to discuss what has worked with the network in Year One, what hasn’t worked and what he expects in the next few years.
Awful Announcing: With Fox Sports 1 a year old, how do you think the network has grown in the past year?
David Nathanson: We have a lot to be proud of. We really started to build a foundation for something that we believe long-term that will have a major impact on the sports landscape and more importantly, it will not only help Fox Sports to go deeper and bring fans closer to the sports they care about most. We’re really proud of what we’ve created in the first year and we have a lot of areas to improve, but I think all start-ups do and in the end I think we’re on a very positive path. We have a brighter future ahead.
AA: You talked about some growing pains, there were some studio shows (Fox Football Daily, Fox Soccer Daily, Crowd Goes Wild) that went by the wayside. You’re trying America’s Pregame now. What is it about trying to find that right mix to get a studio show and a signature program that can be a true success?
DN: If we’re not constantly reviewing and being critical of the work that we’re doing and take into consideration not only what sports fans want now, but what’s going to put the network in the best position in the long term, and almost as important, take consideration for where we are in our life cycle, then we’re not doing our job.
So we’re constantly in the process of reviewing, adjusting and refocusing the business and that’s what we should be doing at this stage in our life and we’ll continue to do that in the future. I think we have a really strong programming lineup now with NASCAR Race Hub and America’s Pregame which launched only a few months ago, but I think really takes advantage of all the assets that Fox Sports has to bear especially our regional sports networks and allows fans to go really deep before the night’s events. And then obviously our flagship show, Fox Sports Live, which in itself has evolved tremendously from when we first launched it to where it is today and continues to evolve.
So I think we’ve created a strong stable of programming assets that showcase our talent, but ultimately showcase the power of Fox Sports overall and I think it’s something to grow and evolve in the future.
AA: You mentioned Fox Sports Live and it has had its growing pains as well. You have strictly highlights in the first hour with Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole and “Countdown” which has panel discussions and interviews in the second hour. Where do you find that right mix of being able to marry the two of having a panel and highlights?
DN: I think that’s been a balance that we’ve had to really find. Obviously showcasing the news and highlights and making sure sports fans are up to date with everything that’s happened that evening is critically important to any sports fan and we recognize that. I think Jay and Dan in the first hour of the show, that’s their primary focus to get fans up to speed and to do it in a way that not only is fun and entertaining, but most importantly informative.
The second hour of the show has evolved tremendously from where we started. That’s where we can really go deeper and really count down and analyze all of the major events that night. And obviously the third hour is kind of a hybrid of both.
So I think that the format of the show has evolved based on what we’ve seen viewers want to see at those particular hours and I think if you look at the ratings and the retention of what we’ve been able to do over the past few months as we’ve evolved the show, I think you’ll see that it’s paying off for us and something we’ll continue to work on.
AA: Fox will be premiering a new Friday night college football studio show during Fox Sports Live and will be repeating it on Saturday mornings. What led to the decision to produce this show and replace the live pregame show with Erin Andrews that aired last year?
DN: We had an opportunity on Friday nights to tap into our talent base to really preview everything that’s going to be happening that weekend and use that as a sort of a pregame for everything that we’re going to showcase Saturday morning. So for us, it was a combination of first and foremost, we had the right group in place in regards to talent. We have a tremendous operation and news staff in place to help really bring the latest information as it relates to everything that’s going to be coming up the next day. We believe it’s going to hold its value overnight leading into the morning, leading into our live event coverage which this year will be really unmatched in terms of its rivalries.
So I think all those factors combined led us to the decision to do something special on Friday evenings in the second hour after we delivered all the news and highlights from that night’s sports action.
AA: Fox has some new events coming in 2015 including the Women’s World Cup and the U.S. Open. What are you most looking forward to over the next 12 months as Fox Sports 1 enters Year Two?
DN: I think you highlighted two of the more than 600 hours that we’re going to launch in our second year that we never delivered or aired on our network in the first year. The fact that we’re adding to our arsenal, our portfolio of rights in such scale is something we’re all really excited about.
I think probably nothing is more exciting than postseason baseball that’s coming up this fall. I think that’s going to deliver the biggest audiences the network has ever seen.
Couple that with everything we’re doing with the premiere of the 20th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and that’s obviously our flagship unscripted UFC series and this season, all of the rules are changed for that series where it’s an all-female cast and instead of getting a UFC contract at the end of the series, the winner will walk away with the belt as it’s a new weight class that they’re fighting for.
So that coupled with college football just in the next three months I think is really going to elevate the profile of the network and bring new fans to the network. That will continue to build momentum as the year comes on as we add additional NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races, as we add MLS and US Soccer content across the network, the US Women’s qualifiers for the World Cup.
And I think June (2015) is going to be the biggest month in the network’s history. If you’re a sports fan and you have a pulse, you will be watching Fox Sports 1. You’ll have the US Open Championships, you’ll have the FIFA Women’s World Cup and that will be complimented by NASCAR programming, UFC programming, MLS programming, MLB programming all in the same month. So we’re working and continuing to build momentum to something really big and it’s something that we’re all excited for in the year ahead.
AA: Looking ahead, there’s NBA, the Big Ten and the English Premier League rights that will be up for bid just ahead. Are those rights being looked at by Fox as potential building blocks for Fox Sports 1?
DN: First and foremost, we’re very satisfied with the portfolio of rights we have and particularly what we’re going to add to it this year. But this is without question the most competitive sports landscape arguably in history and so we will always look at what else is coming down the pipeline, what’s available from a rights perspective and then ultimately, we have to make smart decisions based on our long-term goals, our economic goals and strategic goals.
We’ll look at everything and we’re certainly aware of what’s available in the marketplace, but we’re also aware that we deliver something very unique to our rights partners both in terms of our reach and both in terms of our focus on their rights to really elevate them and grow them year after year and we want to make sure we continue to do that.
So we’ll do it and we’ll look at everything in the marketplace, but we’ll do it in a very calculated fashion.
AA: What is it about Fox what makes you think that this is going to be a success and Fox Sports 1 is on the upswing and on the right track?
DN: We have a long history of challenging the status quo. It’s kind of in our DNA. You look back to when we launched the Fox network when there were three broadcast networks for decades and decades and challenged the status quo then.
You saw that again when David Hill started Fox Sports when we bought the NFL rights in 1993 and broadcast them in 1994 and have since had the number one sports show on television for 17 years in a row.
You saw it with Fox News when they challenged a really entrenched incumbent in CNN.
That challenging the status quo but also challenging ourselves to continually innovate and deliver something for the fans that we believe that they’re not getting … that’s what makes Fox Sports, Fox Sports and it’s something that we’re very proud of and it’s something we challenge ourselves to deliver and live up to every day.
AA: Where do you see Fox Sports 1 five years from now?
DN: I think Fox Sports 1 will be a very different network five years from now. First and foremost, I think more fans will tune into us more often and for a longer period of time and ultimately, I think that a lot of our shows which continue to develop will certainly have found their strides, but beyond that, we’ll continue to evolve. If we’re not, then we’re not doing our job.
And ultimately, I think our goal as I said at the very beginning of this interview, is to build a sports network that not only is incredibly relevant and challenges the marketplace with a dominant alternative for sports fans, but ultimately allows Fox Sports to get deeper and bring fans closer to the sports they care about. In five years from now we’ll be doing more and more of that.