When Fox Sports announced that they would be launching a new 24/7 national sports channel to compete with ESPN, I have to admit that part of me was excited. ESPN has had the better part of a monopoly over the sports media world for decades and, in theory, competition would be a great thing for everyone involved to challenge all the major sports media players to up their games. We’ve seen plenty of networks come and go before in this attempt, but everything in the build-up to Fox Sports 1 felt different. Here would finally be a significant, legitimate challenger that had all the necessary attributes (history, ambition, $$$) to actually make the attempt to climb Everest and go head-to-head with Bristol. And even before Fox Sports 1 launched, executives and on-air personalities made no bones about the belief that they would emerge as a new and fun alternative to ESPN.
A little selfishly, it was also exciting because it would give us another brand new network for this website to analyze and write about. And when ESPN personalities began to fight back against the campaign to paint them as the stodgy establishment, it felt like an exciting time to be covering the industry.
But now? Now things are much different. The excitement surrounding FS1 in its third year is gone and all that’s left is an emotion somewhere between apathy and complete and utter disappointment.
Because I’ve given up all hope that FS1 could be a suitable alternative to ESPN, at least in its present form.
That’s not to say there aren’t people who work at FS1 whose work I still don’t enjoy. (Katie Nolan, Jay & Dan, Rob Stone, John Strong, Peter Schrager, Mike Garafolo, Charissa Thompson just to name a few, this is a network has Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery call college basketball together too!) And that’s not to say that their live game coverage hasn’t improved (if you watched the Women’s World Cup, you know that it has). If anything, it’s because they have so many talented, fresh people working at the network and promised to offer something new to fans that makes the current trajectory of FS1 so disappointing. From the top down, the overall direction of the network can best be classified as “crash” and “burn.”
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The final straw, when hope for FS1 becoming something worthwhile finally gave its last flicker and died, occurred last week during the highly controversial moment when reporter Julie Stewart-Binks invited Rob Gronkowski to do a lap dance on Jason Whitlock’s daytime Super Bowl week show. Enough words have already been written analyzing that moment and all the issues surrounding it, but at the end of the day it’s exactly what Fox wanted – a viral moment to get them publicity. By any means necessary.
You can say what you want about that scene and whether it set women in sports media back or was a harmless moment that was all in good fun. What’s really unfortunate in this quest to go viral is that sports fans will now know Julie Stewart-Binks from that 30 second video clip instead of the months of excellent work she did as a soccer reporter for FS1. But it was also what happened with the response from Whitlock and Stewart-Binks the following day that caught my attention.
That video wasn’t as widely-shared and featured JSB calling out her critics and an extended rant from Whitlock to open up the program saying how offended he was (ok?), a shout-out to all the awards he’s won (???) and a Stephen A. Smith-esque rant threatening to out fellow reporters who had been in strip clubs with him and one in particular who has an improper relationship with John Calipari. (?!?!?!)
Who in their right mind would think that any of this is good, entertaining, or relevant sports television?
Let’s look at this from the perspective of an FS1 executive. Your hope is that a couple more thousand people tune in the next day to see Whitlock’s Super Fun Happy Party Hour to see what all the fuss is about. Maybe those viewers are thinking about what wild and crazy thing these wild and crazy people will do next.
Those viewers are then treated to a discussion on why FS1’s haters are the real problem and a rant from the host promising vengeance on all his enemies.
WOOOOO!!! MAKE IT RAIN!!! DON’T STOP THE PARTY!!!
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It’s easy to see when the FS1 ship started sinking. As the network turned two last year there were still plenty of signs for optimism. But with Fox Sports hiring Jamie Horowitz (the First Take brainchild turned Today Show dropout) to oversee FS1’s new direction, the writing was on the wall. This is what we wrote last August about the future of FS1:
The biggest question facing Fox Sports 1 on its second birthday is what the network’s true identity will be moving forward. Nobody wants to see Fox Sports 1 turn into a network that is nothing but reruns of the worst of ESPN. The pessimist in me envisions FS1 launching a new debate show starring Clay Travis and Donovan McNabb (whenever he comes back from his indefinite suspension) and putting all their eggs in the “regressive Colin Cowherd socio-economic commentary” basket. This would be the darkest of all timelines.
Aside from Donovan McNabb (who resigned from FS1 after another DUI arrest), that was a little too on the nose, don’t you think?