Fox Sports Media Group made the worst-kept secret in sports television public today at a star-studded press conference in New York, announcing its plans to launch a national cable sports network in August, dubbed Fox Sports 1. Fox’s Speed network will officially relaunch as FS1 on Saturday Aug. 17, complete with its own 24-hour news operation and a laundry list of live sports events. The announcement marks yet another addition to a growing stable of 24-hour sports networks, all of which aim to chip away at ESPN’s overwhelming dominance in the market.
“The waiting is over,” said David Hill, the former Fox Sports chairman who has been brought back to help launch the new network. “We have been looking at launching a cable sports network for 15 years at varying degrees … and we believe that, right now, the market for sports is vast. If you look at the number of people that sit down and watch a football game and [other live sports], there is a huge percentage of the population to whom sports is vitally important and sports is the best entertainment there is.
Expanding the Footprint — in Homes and Production Facilities
Speed network is currently available in just under 85 million homes, but Fox expects FS1 to reach more than 90 million at launch. Viewers of the new network can plan on seeing plenty of Fox Sports Media Group’s “double-box” commercial format, which splits the screen into a live feed of the event and a commercial. According to FSMG Co-President/COO Eric Shanks, Fox hopes to use the double box for all live events on FS1.
Shanks also expects Fox to expand and revamp its production facilities and operations in both Los Angeles (FSMG’s headquarters) and Charlotte, NC, (Speed headquarters) as a result of the FS1 launch.
“From a production standpoint, you’re not starting from scratch,” he said. “There are facilities in Los Angeles, Charlotte, and all over the country with the regional networks. We will also be able to leverage Fox News facilities here in New York. The Charlotte facility still stays open for business. We still have as big if not bigger lineup of motorsports programming as we have ever had. We will also look to shift some additional production to Charlotte.”
Hill added, “Charlotte is a phenomenal production facility. The one thing that we do know … is that production is going to be expanding. In two to three years, the facility is so good that it is obviously going to end up being used.”
Fox Sports GO and FS2
Not to be lost in the excitement of the cable network’s launch, Fox also announced plans for Fox Sports GO, a new authenticated broadband and mobile platform that will offer more than 1,000 live games and events from across Fox Sports, Fox Sports 1, and Fox Sports’ 22 regional sports networks, as well as scores, highlights, news, stats, and analysis.
Despite rumors to the contrary, Fox would not confirm plans to convert another of its sports networks, Fuel, to Fox Sports 2. Co-President/COO Randy Freer also would not confirm the company’s plans for Fox Soccer, which will see a major chunk of its programming move to FS1. And yet another rumor was not confirmed on Tuesday: Shanks said Fox is “cautiously optimistic” that a rights deal will be done with the “Catholic 7” basketball schools in the near future. However, he declined to put an official timeline on when the agreement could be finalized.
Live Content To Spare
Thanks to Fox’s flurry of rights deals over the past 18 months, FS1 will have no shortage of live programming. The network will televise 5,000 hours of live event, news, and original content in its first year. According to Fox SVG of Programming and Research Bill Wanger, 55% of the network’s programming will be live sports events.
“Starting with the FIFA World Cup and then followed by several other rights agreements that were coming up [at that time] were going to lay the landscape for the next decade,” said Randy Freer, “we now believe that we have amassed enough live events and can package programming around that, where we can have scale and significance and can be a major player in the market.”
Fox plans to build FS1’s programming around seven pillars: college basketball, college football, MLB, NASCAR, soccer, UFC, and news and original programming.
FS1 will carry dozens of exclusive college basketball primetime games on Monday and Thursday nights, plus Saturday and Sunday coverage of the Big 12, Pac-12, and Conference USA.
The college football slate will be led by Notre Dame at Stanford, the Big Ten Championship Game, and Pac-12 Championship Game (2014) on Fox; dozens of exclusive, live games from the Pac-12, Big 12, and Conference USA on Thursday nights and Saturdays; triple- and quadruple-headers on Saturdays; and Saturday pre- and post-game coverage.
The MLB might be the biggest feather in FS1’s hat beginning in 2014, when Fox’s new rights deal with the league goes into effect. FS1 will carry selected League Championship Series and Division Series games following a slate of 26 regular-season Saturday games (which will include a live game-in-progress look-in show). Fox broadcast network’s MLB slate will be cut to 12 weeks starting in 2014.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races could see life on FS1 as early as 2015. In the meantime, the network will have the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Sprint All-Star Race, Daytona Speedweeks, Practice and Qualifying sessions, and more.
FS1 will also have Tuesday-Thursday afternoon coverage of UEFA Champions League and Europa League. In addition, it will cover CONCACAF Champions League, the FA Cup, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015 and 2019. The key to FS1’s soccer slate, however, comes in 2018 and 2022, when it will carry FIFA Men’s World Cup in the U.S.
UFC will play a major role on FS1, with weekly Wednesday-night programming, live Fight Nights through 2014 (the first on Aug. 17), preliminary cards, UFC Tonight, 14 Saturday pay-per-view preliminary cards, and hundreds of hours of library programs and events.
More Studio Programming Means More Production Facilities
In addition to live events and studio programs, FS1 will introduce its answer to ESPN’s SportsCenter: Fox Sports Live. The 24/7 news operation will have regularly scheduled programs, hourly updates, and an information-rich ticker that provides a “network-agnostic” sports-event television schedule.
“One of the biggest things we need to overcome is inertia. Over time, people need to feel like there is a channel number in their head as an alternative to one of the most powerful channels out there,” Shanks said, not so subtly hinting at ESPN. “You’re not going to overcome inertia unless you have games that people want to watch and you can become a source for whenever [news] breaks. To be able to have that investment in news is something we feel like you have to have to even be able to battle that inertia.”
According to Shanks, Fox plans to expand its production facilities in both Los Angeles and Charlotte. Last year, Fox wholly revamped its primary studio in L.A. for its Fox NFL Sunday show and various other studio programs. Now Fox is renovating an additional studio with the expectation that it is ready to launch in time for Aug. 17.
Both studios will serve as the home of Fox Sports Live and various other FSMG studio shows.
Fox plans to launch a morning studio show in January 2014 in conjunction with Fox broadcast network’s Super Bowl coverage. Shanks said the studio for this morning program will likely be located in New York.
FS1 will also feature new original programming, highlighted by Rush Hour, hosted by Regis Philbin, airing live weekdays (5:00-6:00 p.m. ET), and originating in New York City. The network will also offer Fox Football Daily, an extension of Fox NFL Sunday featuring the NFL pregame show’s on-air talent, and new documentary franchise Being, a behind-the-scenes look into athletes’ lives, which will debut with Being: Mike Tyson, currently in production.