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Friday, December 26, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 8/15/2013

Fox Sports 1 to mirror the best of ESPN

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

It is one of the last frontiers for television advertisers. Live sports. So many of us record our favorite shows, or use on-demand offerings, and when we watch we fast-forward right past all those pesky commercials.

Sports viewing is different. More often than not, people prefer to watch it live. Thus, advertisers invest heavily.

So, too, do cable outlets and their viewers. Did you know that more than $5 of your monthly cable fees goes to ESPN and its affiliated networks? No other programmer approaches that, thanks in large part to its NFL inventory.

Anyway, there’s a lot of money in live, cable sports. Since ESPN was launched in 1979 — yes, really, it has been nearly 35 years – a lot of others have jumped on board.

CBS and NBC both have cable sports affiliates, the former built around college sports. The latter is best known for hockey but is about to go heavily into Barclay’s Premier League soccer and will surely get its share of the next Winter Olympics, for which NBC is the U.S. rights-holder.

Golf has its own network. Major League Baseball has its own network. So does the NFL and the Big Ten. We’re just scratching the surface.

Still, all are merely shirttail cousins of the ESPN brand.

On Saturday, Fox will launch its bid — Fox Sports 1 — and may represent the biggest challenge to ESPN’s seemingly impregnable presence.

Fox will start with a number of advantages even ESPN did not have at its inception.

It is well-funded by its parent, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. It has considerable programming inventory, headed by NASCAR – incidentally, Fox Sports 1 is a re-branding of Fox’s Speed Network — college football and basketball, soccer, boxing, and the growing UFC scene.

The new network, via Fox, already has some $12 billion invested in established rights fees with various pro and college leagues and sanctioning bodies. And that will grow.

A new agreement between Fox and Major League Baseball will add to the Fox Sports 1 live inventory starting in 2014. Soon, the new cable outlet will have FIFA World Cup soccer and will add some portions of the U.S. Open golf package that Fox pilfered right out from under an NBC-ESPN collaboration.

Fox Sports 1 debuts with every major cable provider on board, meaning instant access to some 90 million homes. Without NFL games (that remains exclusively with the parent Fox network) it won’t be able to command anything close to ESPN’s subscriber fees, but Fox reportedly will triple the Speed Network’s fee and that should amount to more than $1 billion a year in additional revenue, not including advertising.

The new network will mirror the best of ESPN — a late-night Sportscenter-type show called Fox Sports Live, single-sport studio shows, documentaries, and a 24/​7 breaking news presence.

While there will be a lot of fresh and probably young faces and names in front of the camera, one host is none of the above. Regis Philbin, about to turn 82, will host a weekday sports-oriented variety show.

(A Buckeye CableSystem spokesperson said the re-branded network will be part of its standard package and located on Ch. 31. A channel assignment by regional cable provider Time Warner was unavailable.)

Do we need or want another round-the-clock sports network? Doesn’t matter; we’re getting it. And they know the sports nuts among us will watch it, commercials and all.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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