45 years ago, Harry Nilsson wrote and performed a song whose cover by Three Dog Night a year later was more memorable.
The song? “One.”
The message? “One is the loneliest number.”
Around a decade lader, the very first sports cable network, ESPN, was formed.
Then on March 5, 2013, at the Marquis Theater, Fox Sports officially unveiled its brand new, long awaited sports cable network.
The name? “Fox Sports 1.”
The message? ESPN isn’t going to be lonely at the top of the sports broadcasting world anymore.
Because on Saturday, August 17, that is when Fox’s sports behemoth (or at least they really, really hope it can be a behemoth) will bow, debuting with already 90 million available viewers, replacing the SPEED channel.
The upfront was all about Fox Sports 1, and not so much a potential Fox Sports 2 sister network, of which Fox’s FUEL TV property was said to be the launching pad, but as Fox Sports co-president Randy Freer admits, “We’re not prepared to say anything on that now.”
That’s right, Mr. Freer. Baby steps.
Of course, Fox’s previous attempts to overthrow ESPN (anyone else remember “The National Sports Report?”) were futile.
But now, with sports deals already in hand, Fox Sports 1 won’t have to worry about depending on things like Australian Rules football or lumberjack competitions to fill time like ESPN before them did when they first signed on back in 1979.
In fact, Fox will literally have seven sports wells to delve from for content, for as many days there are in the week. NFL and college basketball will be focused daily, while soccer takes the field Tuesdays through Thursdays, college football is in play Thursdays through Saturdays; NASCAR (a sport that has logged many years on Fox Sports 1 before it would even begin) drives in Fridays through Sundays, and there’s even UFC action on Wednesday nights, live starting August 21. It was mentioned at the upfront that UFC coverage on Fox “outrates NHL on NBC by 108%” – that as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is in attendance.
Anyway, I gave you just six of Fox’s “seven sports pillars,” and the last one – no, it isn’t hockey, but it’s baseball. In fact, starting next year, there will be much more baseball action on Fox Sports 1 than the Fox broadcast network, as they will carry MLB games every week during the regular season – which is what Fox is doing now, albeit for the final time; Fox will get just a dozen baseball broadcasts starting in 2014 – and they’ll likely all be shown in primetime.
But hold on to your Pesky Pole: Fox Sports 1 will also start carrying MLB postseason play, including a couple of divisional series and even some games from the league championship round.
Also migrating to Fox Sports 1 from Fox’s broadcast operation: the aforementioned NASCAR. Yes, it’s ironic that the network which, as SPEED, only carried NASCAR’s annual All-Star Race (which does not affect drivers’ point standings), will now, as Fox Sports 1, carry that every year, and then some, with an unspecified number of races being carried by the new network. I say, with two cable networks in ESPN and TNT rounding out the NASCAR schedule, why not just move all but the Daytona 500 and the night races (specifically the Memorial Day Weekend race) over to Fox Sports 1 and be done with it? And I hate to say this, but the World Series probably is not long for the Fox network, as well; consider airing two of the first three games of the World Series on Fox Sports 1, with the remainder on Fox – just as the November sweeps month begins.
So while live sports is a major backbone of Fox Sports 1, it also means Fox is committed to it, in that they’re willing to move a number of live events over to the new network so it can prosper.
Daily programming? Fox Sports 1 will have that, as well. And if you’re going to go up against ESPN, you might as well have your own version of “SportsCenter.” Fox Sports 1 is calling it simply, “Fox Sports Live,” and it will air nightly at 11 PM ET, or immediately follow baseball, UFC, or whatever sporting event they’ll be airing on a given night. At the upfront, Fox Sports chief David Hill nicknamed “Live” as “the big magilla” of the new network. Looking at the competition across the dial (provided they don’t fiddle with their schedules from now until August 19), aside from “SportsCenter” on ESPN, there’s encore presentations of “Pro Football Talk” on NBC Sports Network and “NFL Total Access” on NFL Network. CBS Sports Network is carrying various programming in the 11 PM ET hour, but perhaps they’ll move up that midnight “Lead Off” show an hour in due time. There will also be a daily program devoted to NFL news: “Fox Football Daily,” which is the network’s previously rumored Jay Glazer vehicle. But he won’t be alone: As this show will be, according to Fox, “an extension” of their Sunday NFL franchise, other personalities will appear on the show, from Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long, to Erin Andrews and maybe Cleatus, too! “Football Daily” will air at 6 PM ET, where it will air against the early evening edition of “SportsCenter” on ESPN, “Rome” on CBSSN, “The Crossover” on NBCSN, and various programming on NFL Network (at this time, NFLN airs “Path To The Draft” in the 6 PM hour – but it’s obviously temporary). And we haven’t forgotten about Regis Philbin. He will host a “brand new, unpredictable talk show” called “Rush Hour”. And let’s face it, with the male 18-34 demographic only accounting for 2% of Philbin’s final year as co-host of “Live” alongside Kelly Ripa, Reege is going to have to be unpredictable if he’s going up against the established ESPN duo of “Around The Horn” and “Pardon The Interruption.” Also airing at 5 PM ET is the first-run of “Pro Football Talk” on NBCSN and various programs on CBSSN and NFLN. In addition, Fox Sports 1 will also launch a new daily morning show following football season.
Oh, and Fox is also going to revamp FSN’s old “Beyond The Glory” franchise, presenting a new documentary series titled, “Being” – and its first subject, the one and only Mike Tyson. (I sure hope they get a few comments from Fox/New York sports anchor Russ Salzberg for that show.)
Virtually every Fox Sports personality was in New York City for Fox Sports 1’s coming-out party. Joe Buck, Gus Johnson and rookie “Fox NFL Sunday” comedian Rob Riggle all appeared via pre-recorded pieces presented at the event.
Even non-Fox folk were there: Fox Sports tweeted this photo from the upfront of Michael Strahan, Tony Siragusa and… wait for it… Tiki Barber! Yes, the same Tiki Barber who flamed out on NBC and is currently biding his time on CBS Sports Radio every morning. That Tiki Barber. I hope to Cleatus that there are no plans to hire Barber at Fox Sports 1 in any capacity.
Lord knows they’re going to have a lot of time to fill on the new network, but David Hill realizes that it’ll take even more time if they expect their “big Magilla” to catch up to the 33-year-old, $5-per-month gorilla in the room.
“It’s going to take us a while,” a humble Hill admitted at the upfront.
Well, it’s not like ESPN has been the bastion of sports journalism and entertainment these days.
By the way, on the eve of Fox’s upfront, ESPN conveniently decided to remind everyone just how big they really are.
It might be a bit intimidating, but Fox has been here before, breaking new grounds with its broadcast network as well as Fox News Channel, in an era were the established networks were “The Big Three” and CNN.
So Fox Sports 1 is certainly primed to be a success.
Otherwise, it’ll be the saddest experience they’ve ever known.
Especially if Tiki Barber is somehow involved.