After months of reports, speculation, and intrigue Fox finally had the coming out party for their new 24 hour cable sports network, Fox Sports 1, earlier today in New York City. As has been reported for months, FS1 will replace Speed Channel as Fox looks to build a network that can challenge the generation-long dominance of ESPN. Fox Sports President Eric Shanks laid down the gauntlet in today's announcement:
“Fans are ready for an alternative to the establishment, and our goal for FS1 is to provide the best in-game experience possible, complemented by informative news, entertaining studio shows and provocative original programming.”
After the slow start of NBC Sports Network, the mantle has now turned to Fox to provide an alternative in the marketplace. And from today's news, it's clear Fox is starting at a much stronger position than NBC Sports Network, especially in terms of live sports rights. Here's all you need to know about Fox Sports 1…
Launch Date: Saturday, August 17th, 2013. The launch day will have a litany of live sports including a NASCAR truck series race (the spirit of Speed will live on!) and culminating in FS1's first UFC card.
Distribution: 90 million homes. Fox claims it's one of the largest channel launches in television history. To put that in perspective, ESPN and ESPN2 are in about 100 million homes, while NBCSN is in 80 million and CBS Sports Network roughly 50 million. The prominence, longevity, and distribution of Speed Channel is an immense built in advantage for Fox that NBC didn't have with Versus.
UFC: Mixed martial arts will be a cornerstone of Fox Sports 1 with Wednesday nights labeled "Fight Nights" and 12 of them packed through the end of the year from launch.
Fox Sports One will air 12 UFC "Fight Nights" on Wednesdays from Aug 17 through end of year. Bouts will air from 8PM-11PM.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) March 5, 2013
Fox has to be encouraged with their UFC on Fuel numbers which just set a record high in viewership and you know Dana White will love the increased exposure. As long as the cable broadcasts deliver decent cards, FS1 should continue to see positive numbers. Between the FS1 broadcasts, Fox network, and pay per view, UFC may be the biggest winner in partnering with Fox.
College Football & Basketball: While Fox didn't confirm it at launch, the New Big East is on its way to provide the network with a solid stable of basketball coverage along with Pac 12 and Big 12 games. Expect to see games on Monday and Thursday nights as well as the weekends. As far as football goes, you should see any FX games move to FS1. Perhaps the most surprising news in this department is FS1 launching a weekly Thursday night college football game that will compete directly with ESPN and NFL Network in the fall.
NASCAR: Losing Speed has to be a blow to auto racing fans, but stock car racing will still have a large presence on FS1. The network will televisie practice sessions, qualifying, Speedweeks at Daytona, the All-Star Race from Charlotte, pre and post race coverage of Sprint Cup races, and a daily NASCAR studio show – Race Hub. And, some Sprint Cup races will appear in 2015. With all of those hours of coverage, NASCAR will be an FS1 mainstay.
Soccer: Speed will bite the dust, and as previously reported it looks like Fox Soccer will as well. FS1 will air games Tuesday-Thursdays mainly from Europe and CONCACAF. Interestingly, the Fox release also cites weekly magazine and studio shows and primetime replays of matches. FS1 will televise World Cup games once the Fox contract kicks in after 2014, too. I'd expect the most attractive Fox Soccer properties to get real estate on FS1, but the rest of the inventory should be relegated to Fox Sports 2 when it launches.
MLB: In 2014, regular season and playoff baseball will come to FS1 with some Division Series AND LCS games. That is huge for FS1. Prime content like playoff baseball will allow Fox to drive up subscription fees where they hope to reach the $1 mark, more than triple the 31 cents Speed currently charges. That would at least put it in the ballpark of large cable nets like TNT and Fox News. To truly be competitive for the long haul, FS1 will need to get as much capital here as they can – that money from distributors (at over $5 a hit, exponentially more than any other network charges) is the secret to ESPN's empire.
Fox Sports Live: Is Fox directly taking on SportsCenter? You bet. A nightly 11 PM newscast entitled Fox Sports Live will have a go at Bristol's flagship program:
Fox Sports 1 will have a nightly highlights show “Fox Sports Live” airing at 11 pm ET. A morning edition starts in January.
— Fang's Bites (@fangsbites) March 5, 2013
In addition, Fox Sports Live updates will appear throughout the day on FS1 and a morning news program will be launched in January 2014. The daytime SportsCenter episodes have fallen off a cliff, but the 11 PM ET episode and west coast editions remain high quality. NBCSN shelved their flagship news show (NBC Sports Talk), so Fox will need to come strong from the outset and provide a true and serious alternative. If Fox Sports Live recycles the same topics ESPN does, it's a non-starter. One of NBCSN's best shows is the morning program "The Lights" because it's completely counter-culture to ESPN. All highlights and no annoying debate and fluff. FS1 must look to provide something different in the news department as well. No anchors have been named yet, but I'm already campaigning for the return of Van Earl Wright.
Regis: If there's one element of the FS1 unveiling that loses me, this is it. Regis Philbin will host a daily sports panel show entitled "Rush Hour" from 5-6 ET. In no timeline does this have any chance of working, not even the darkest timeline. Reg turns 82 two weeks after FS1 launches and has no connection with sports. It's just a bizarre idea all around.
Fox Football Daily: On the other end of the spectrum, it's wise for Fox to take advantage of the success and popularity of Fox NFL Sunday by bringing the morning crew to FS1 Monday-Friday. The 6-7 ET timeslot goes against SportsCenter, but the NFL is year round and I really think this show featuring Fox's NFL personalities like Jay Glazer, Howie Long, and Terry Bradshaw will find an audience.
Documentaries: Fox Soccer aired Being: Liverpool last year, taking viewers inside one of the world's most famous soccer clubs. That brand and documentary series will continue with Mike Tyson being the first FS1 subject in the fall.
Advertising: In what could be an under-the-radar, but revolutionary move, Fox's Double Box advertising will be a mainstay of FS1. If you don't have to leave games on FS1 during commercials, it keeps viewers on the network and gives sports fans an immediate way to distinguish it from ESPN.
Summary: It's easy to get caught up again in an optimistic frenzy that someone may actually challenge ESPN and Fox Sports 1 is the newest network to take a swing at Goliath. In truth, FS1 will never look better than it does today. However, the distribution base as well as an impressive array of live sports rights gives Fox Sports 1 a better chance than any network that came before. MLB, NASCAR, UFC, soccer, and BCS conference college sports provide a live sports portfolio NBC and CBS's cable networks can only dream of. Nothing in televised sports is more important than live sports rights and FS1 will have plenty that sports fans want to see from the outset. Fox has already changed the way the game is played on network television and in cable news. Cable sports is their final frontier.