Before jumping into this, I want to just be clear that the janky photo above is not a photo we made or found. It’s the official press release photo. That’s what they went with. With that out of the way…
Clay Travis will be hitting the road this fall in an Outkick themed bus hoping to go to the best game in the south every weekend. They’ll fill in the rest of the schedule as the season evolves, but for now, the slated stops include:
- September 2nd in Knoxville for Bowling Green at Tennessee
- September 4th in Charlotte for Georgia-Clemson
- September 11th in Fayetteville for Texas at Arkansas
- September 18th in Gainesville for Alabama at Florida
- December 4th in Atlanta for The SEC Championship
The official Fox Sports release describes the tour as follows:
Travis serves as a special correspondent for the season, interviewing top players, coaches and fans for weekly segments on FOX Sports’ college football pregame show, BIG NOON KICKOFF, FS1’s THE HERD WITH COLIN COWHERD and Outkick.com.
In a blog on Outkick,com, which Fox recently acquired, Travis also says the tour will also provide content for Fox & Friends and that they’ll announce where the bus is going every Wednesday on that show.
It’s an interesting move. If you’re unfamiliar with Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff, the show has made inroads embracing a strategy that has leaned into positioning itself as an alternative to perceived SEC favoritism on ESPN’s College GameDay. That strategy has worked, but suffered a significant blow when the show’s biggest draw, Urban Meyer, returned to coaching (again). Big Noon Kickoff replaced Meyer with Bob Stoops and now seems to be drifting away from it’s Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac 12 focus a bit by setting aside airtime for Travis and his bus tour of what looks to be primarily SEC and ACC games, two conferences that Fox does not have a relationship with and whose TV rights are locked up for quite some time.
Fox seems to have a thing for buses. The network did a lot of content around the Madden Cruiser in the 90s. More recently, Fox made a Jim Harbaugh themed bus, signaling their interest in acquiring Big Ten TV rights. There seems to be a Fox Sports VP who just really thinks buses work as a promotional vehicle.
This move really sticks out for a few reasons, with the main one being that Fox is going to be spotlighting games and conferences that don’t air on their network. I do applaud that aspect, as I’ve hinted in the past my concerns that we are headed in a direction where college football coverage mirrors cable news.
That’s led to further questions about if either ESPN or Fox can be depended on to cover the sport neutrally, or if we’re beginning to see a new reality like what we’ve seen with cable news, where we pick our sports channel based on our partisan identity and rooting interest?
ESPN seems to have subtly embraced such a strategy, and Fox now seems motivated to craft a strategy focused on those disenfranchised by ESPN. With the hindsight of over two decades of the cable news networks pursuing such a divide and conquer strategy, we’re like going to see Fox and ESPN continue to increase partisan analysis, toxic discourse, and disingenuous debate to pander to a more fragmented college football audience.
Television contracts, conference expansion or realignment, and/or expanding the college football playoff could all potentially ratchet down the current trend of purposefully tinged favoritism for particular conferences. But if those same variables play out differently, they could also further incentivize ESPN and Fox to escalate their conference loyalty.
It’s nice to see Fox doing something that flies in the opposite direction of that trend, although it’s unclear how broadening the focus of their show will sit with Big Ten and other conference loyalists who tuned to Big Noon Kickoff to avoid what they viewed as overkill SEC coverage on ESPN.
The elephant in the room is that this is Clay Travis and Outkick, and depending on your political leanings, elicit very strong reactions and opinions. Travis’s relationship with Fox Sports has been an interesting one, as there have been stretches where he’s been heavily promoted and given more shows and platforms, all the while becoming more of a divisive political commentator.
There have also been times where his involvement at Fox Sports has seemed to be winding down. Travis recently was named the radio replacement for Rush Limbaugh, which for many seemed to potentially signal a natural ending of his Fox Sports involvement on the television side. Fox Bet Live, the show Travis has been a betting analyst on, has been rumored to be up in the air to return this fall, which made sense on a few fronts including the time commitment component for Travis has with Outkick and his radio show. Perhaps this bus tour signals the show’s fate has been sealed?
ESPN certainly got burned pretty badly by mixing a well known conservative commentator with a football pregame show, but this is Fox and Fox has their own unique standards and culture that are significantly different than their peers. When I think of Fox’s inroads in Big Ten country, this feels like another tactic looking to capitalize on regional tribalism. Travis had been vocal in bemoaning ESPN for a variety of reasons. The question is will fans of Travis or SEC teams abandon the network that has pushed all in covering the league, and is seemingly aiding its expansion, in favor of a few minutes of Travis on a Big Ten focused pregame show on a rival network? That’s a big ask, but if Fox wants to maintain its viability in college football, it’s probably wise to have some strategy to court the hyper engaged fans of the SEC. We’ll have to see what the content actually looks like, but until then, it’s at a very least an expensive, creative, and risky way to needle ESPN’s growing monopoly covering SEC football.