Fox Sports 1 has bravely attempted to go toe-to-toe with ESPN with many of its programming choices since its mid-August launch. By challenging ESPN publicly right out of the blocks, the network set very high expectations. Thus far, Fox Sports 1 has failed to reach those expectations in the ratings department.  Fox College Saturday was defeated by College GameDay by a 21-1 ratio in viewership last fall.  Fox Sports Live has struggled to get off the ground challenging SportsCenter, even being outdrawn by a simulcast of Cosmos on FS1 and dipping to as low as 7,000 viewers. Overall, Fox Sports 1 has a mindset that wants to compete with ESPN, but in reality the network is in competition with NBCSN for a distant #2 in the 24/7 cable sports world.

How can Fox Sports 1 and flagship program Fox Sports Live begin to establish a more consistent audience to reach some of those lofty early expectations?  The clear path forward for Fox Sports 1 is to offer viewers a clear choice between their network and ESPN or NBCSN.  FS1 must offer programming and personalities that are in stark contrast to what you would see on any other sports network – that’s the most effective way to find any kind of core audience.  Some of these ideas have worked better than others, but regardless, it’s an ambitious strategy for Fox Sports 1 in its infancy.

The Selection Sunday episode of Fox Sports Live pushed those boundaries to its farthest point yet by going somewhere a national news and highlights show had not gone before.

Straight to a Las Vegas sportsbook.

Fox Sports Live sent host Charissa Thompson, boob draft expert Clay Travis, and Vegas insider Todd Fuhrman to break down the bracket from a set inside the Las Vegas Hilton Superbook.  The trio not only provided traditional picks, but did so with a heavy emphasis on Vegas odds and point spreads.  Here’s an example…

On Twitter, Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports Live made a hard sell on being in Vegas as the personalities themselves sent the message that in some way this was a landmark moment in sports broadcasting…

Instead of running away from Las Vegas and the influence of sports betting or only recognizing it with a wink and a nod, Fox Sports 1 is rolling the dice by embracing it all.  (That’s the first and last bad gambling pun, I promise.)  Broadcasting live from a Vegas sportsbook and talking about lines and odds in such an open and direct way is not something you will see on SportsCenter anytime soon.

Gambling has been a huge part of sports fandom for a long time.  I can’t be the only kid that grew up in the 90’s watching Proline on Saturday mornings with Jim Feist and Wayne Allyn Root.

However, those programs are usually kept far, far away from the leagues and their rights partners.  Do you think the NFL would be in favor of a Monday Night Football pregame show on ESPN from the Wynn?  Doubtful.

The real question for Fox Sports 1 is just how far they can push the envelope in being so forward about their affinity for Vegas.  If they happen to get a slice of NBA rights, will Adam Silver politely suggest that FS1 push the gambling talk aside for the league?  How comfortable would MLB be if Fox Sports 1 goes back to the Hilton to discuss Over/Under win totals before Opening Day?  That’s uncharted territory for any national sports network and it’ll be very interesting to see if Fox Sports 1 can continue lifting the curtain on the world of sports betting.

We have seen ESPN and others slowly begin to acknowledge the Vegas influence very gradually over recent years, and not just from Brent Musburger’s sly on-air references.  ESPN offers plenty of gambling-related content on its zillions of platforms and features picks against the spread from the likes of Hank Goldberg, Colin Cowherd, and Chris Berman.  However, rarely does it smack you in the mouth in the way FS1 did last night.  This wasn’t just an acknowledgement of betting lines, this was Fox Sports 1 shouting to the masses that they are the sports network of choice for the fan interested in laying some money down.

Taking this unique step is a bold and innovative step for Fox Sports 1.  The network isn’t going to succeed by being a copycat, they have to try new things in order to make their presence known in a universe that is still dominated by ESPN.  FS1 is still in the early stages of trying to get people aware of its existence, let alone establishing an audience.

Instead of falling in line and shying away from something we all know is there, FS1 is willing to name it and take it out of the shadows.  Broadcasting in full view of slot machines and big boards will undoubtedly speak to a large sect of fans interested in the odds.  If it’s something that’s done in a mature way, this is a strategy that can work for Fox Sports 1.  Most importantly, it draws a clear line between FS1 and its competitors.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.