Fox Sports is officially putting ESPN on notice in March.
That’s when Fox will be holding their first-ever “upfront” presentation with advertising buyers, with respect to their sports department.
The main focus of the presentation will be the soon-to-be-launched Fox Sports 1 network, as well as a companion Fox Sports 2 channel and the nearly two dozen regional sports networks in their empire.
And Regis Philbin, whom Fox has been reportedly trying to hook to host a daily “The View”-like sports talk show that would air weekday afternoons, is rumored to make a cameo at the presentation.
You know that Fox is planning to convert the Speed channel into Fox Sports 1. But with Fox Sports 2 also being involved in this event, scheduled to take place next month in New York City, it likely signals that both national networks will launch simultaneously. The Fuel network, available in 37 million households, would be sacrificed for Fox Sports 2.
Meanwhile, Speed is available in 87 million homes, which is a footprint 57% larger than Fuel’s distribution, but just 13% less than ESPN’s reach of just over 100 million.
Combined, Speed and Fuel cost just 37 cents per month per subscriber. Fox will be asking for a 400% rate increase for Fox Sports 1 alone, with the going rate for Fox Sports 2 all but expected to rise, especially as it’s available in more households.
Of course, with live sports programming serving as the backbone of these channels, this was a foregone conclusion.
And you can bet that the money that Fox attributed to holding onto their rights to Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasts – the team instead will leave Fox’s Prime Ticket RSN and join forces with Time Warner Cable to form a new regional sports network – will be added to the Fox Sports 1 war chest. Because, let’s face it, Fox is declaring war with ESPN.
And the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader says, bring it on.
“We like our position and the fact that others recognize what we’ve known for a long-time, which is the power of live sports,” taunted ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys.
We know Fox has already locked up programming deals that would bring MLB and college sports broadcasts to Fox Sports 1.
Then there is the NFL. While Fox Broadcasting is about to embark on their twentieth season (and counting) of the NFL, the Thursday night game package, which was expanded from eight games per year on NFL Network to thirteen just last year, is also up for grabs. CBS and NBC might have a reasonable chance to secure that package for their own cable sports networks. And while TNT is currently tied up with the NBA on Thursday nights, I’m sure Turner Sports would love to get back into the NFL broadcasting loop once again.
But the smart money is on the Thursday night package going to Fox Sports when all is said and done.
“If you think Fox Sports 1 won’t pony up the necessary billions of dollars,” writes the Dallas Morning News’ Barry Horn, “you haven’t paid attention to the way Fox Sports has done business over the last twenty years.”
Like Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network before them, Fox Sports 1 and 2 likely will not turn profits immediately upon their launch. An esitmated per-household rate of 90 cents for Fox Sports 1 (that’s only expected to grow over the years) will soften the blow somewhat. But it’ll only be worth the asking price if the programming on Fox Sports 1 is just as good.
Many cable subscribers want an alternative to ESPN. And ESPN, as you can tell by that quote from their spokesperson, welcomes it. They’ve already vanquished a competitor or two. (Remember NewSport?)
Fox Sports 1 will be signing on in six months. The official start date has not yet been confirmed, but I’m speculating August 1 due to it being a Friday and, by the way, the name of the network is Fox Sports 1. Of course, we now have Fox Sports 2 expected to launch at the same time, and both networks planning to hit the ground running with live sports programming starting in August.
Oh, and that new show Regis Philbin will be hosting. Given his co-hosting shows with a female throughout his career, I could see Erin Andrews alongside Regis on this new show. The male/female co-hosting format has basically been in effect on sports cable networks for years (“SportsNation” on ESPN, “Lead-Off” on CBS Sports Network, and most recently, “The Crossover” on NBC Sports Network), so it’s certainly not out of the question here.
It’ll take a lot more than Regis Philbin and Reggie Wayne, but Fox is in this fight for the long haul.
Quoth a Fox Sports exec: “How do you devour a whale? One bite at a time.”