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Sports is still a moneymaker

Fox Sports executive talks to BGSU students

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Ed Goren, vice chairman of Fox Sports, left, with Richard Maxwell, a 1970 Bowling Green State University graduate and former NFL senior director of broadcasting, speak Wednesday to BGSU students.

The Blade/Lori King
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BOWLING GREEN -- It was Fox Sports against the world -- or, more accurately, CBS.

When Fox attempted in 1993 to outbid the blue-blood network for the rights to broadcast NFL games, few gave the start-up a chance.

CBS had carried football since 1956. Fox was the network that aired Married with Children and COPS. Never mind the new network was offering $1.58 billion over four years --about $125 million more per year than CBS' bid.

"It [required] a huge leap of faith by the tradition-oriented National Football League," said Richard Maxwell, the former NFL senior director of broadcasting.

Money talked, however, and so did the product.

Led by an executive team that included Ed Goren, who spoke to students at Bowling Green State University on Wednesday night, Fox Sports became a TV monolith.

No longer is it "Fox Sport," as former analyst John Madden would say because the company only broadcast football. In addition to the NFL, which the network will pay $1.1 billion in its next contract, Fox counts the World Series, Daytona 500, and Big Ten football championship among its annual offerings.

Goren, vice chairman of the Fox Sports Media Group, said the gamble to legitimize the network by splurging on the NFL in 1993 has never appeared more prescient.

As the advent of digital video recorders changes the way consumers watch television, sporting events have become the most valuable television properties.

Fans generally watch games live, which means big ratings and big advertising dollars. A television record 111.3 million viewers tuned into this year's Super Bowl on NBC while Fox's Sunday afternoon NFL doubleheader drew the highest average ratings among network programs last season.

Goren addressed the evolution of sports television as part of the Richard A. Maxwell Sport Media Project, which is aimed toward students in sports journalism and sport management.

Maxwell is a 1970 BGSU graduate.

"Once upon a time, you would set your primetime lineup where your 8 o'clock show dumps an audience into an 8:30 show, and there was continuity," Goren said in an interview before meeting with students. "Today, most people record what they want, watch it when they want and it's certainly questionable as to how many commercials they watch.

"Ad dollars are in a terrible, terrible economy, yet the support for sports has been sensational. … If you take our seven-game World Series last year, there were more viewers for those seven games than most hit sitcoms on a network get for their whole season. It's a good time to be involved in sports."

Goren, 67, who plans to retire this summer, could not have foreseen they would be this good.

When he left CBS to join Fox Sports CEO David Hill in 1994, the network's sports wing was an on-the-fly operation. Goren, in fact, lived with Hill in Los Angeles his first four months on the job. Their days began at dawn in the office and ended the next morning at a local bar, where ideas and wine flowed. Among the earliest innovations was the introduction of the "Fox Box," which placed the score in the top corner of the screen.

"We'd come in the next morning with wine-stained napkins going, 'Who's idea was this? Are you kidding me?. We're going to put a football field in our studio?'" Goren said.

"From a creative standpoint, it was the most exhilarating year of my life -- and my liver."

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