Tuesday, January 23, 2018
TV and Radio_sports

Fox Sports 1 hopes to challenge ESPN's dominance

Through the years, various television networks have tried to challenge ESPN's dominance in the sports broadcast world, only to have little or no impact. Today, another competitor steps into the ring.

And this one believes it has a puncher's chance.

Fox Sports 1 launches today in some 90 million homes across the United States, offering nearly 5,000 hours of live event, news and original programming annually. It can be found on what was previously the Speed channel.

What gives FS1 hope is that Fox is the rights-holder for so many leagues, including the NFL, Major League Baseball, college football and basketball, soccer, NASCAR , boxing and UFC. As early as next year, MLB regular-season and, more importantly, postseason games will be aired on FS1.

But don't get the impression ESPN is pacing the floor.

Speaking last week on CNN's Reliable Sources, ESPN president John Skipper said, "They've got some excellent rights, they make smart plays, News Corp. (which owns Fox) will make big bets, so we respect what they do and we're cognizant.

"We, on the other hand, feel very confident in our strengths in the aggregation of rights that we have, our people, in our relationships with advertisers and our distribution deals. We are in a strong position."

Skipper has seen this before. Fox is hardly the first network to take a run at ESPN's stranglehold on sports television.

NBC launched the NBC Sports Network in January 2012 and despite live events, original programming and major personalities such as Bob Costas and Dan Patrick, it hasn't been able to carve significantly into ESPN's territory. Same goes for CBS Sports Network, which has built its stable around national sports personality Jim Rome.

Former ESPN executive Mark Shapiro said Fox's attempt to stand toe-to-toe with ESPN isn't like climbing a hill. It's more like scaling the Grand Canyon, mostly because ESPN has become such a habit for sports viewers.

"The first thing we have to battle is inertia," Fox senior executive vice president David Hill told the Los Angeles Times. "For 30 years people have been watching ESPN. We understand that. We know it. We get it."

Fox Sports 1 is trying to sell viewers on being the "fun" alternative to ESPN. Yet it will attempt to do many of the things ESPN already does, starting with a flagship news and highlights program.

Just like ESPN's SportsCenter, FS1 will have a daily program called Fox Sports Live. Mostly airing at 11 p.m. Eastern with repeated broadcasts when not interrupted by live events, Fox Sports Live will be a mix of news and analysis with an array of former athletes serving as commentators.

The show primarily will be hosted by Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole, a popular anchor team formerly with TSN, Canada's version of ESPN. Former ESPN personality Charissa Thompson will host commentary segments featuring former tennis star Andy Roddick, former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb and former NBA star Gary Payton, among others.

Fox already has some of the top television commentators in Joe Buck, Terry Bradshaw, Erin Andrews and Jay Glazer.

It has made other hires including former NFL stars Ronde Barber of the Bucs, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss, who are expected to be the main commentators on an NFL show called Fox Football Daily.

And, Fox's biggest splash might be hiring 81-year-old television legend Regis Philbin, who will host a weeknight show (usually 5 p.m.) called Crowd Goes Wild.

Perhaps in response to Fox, ESPN has made several high-profile hires in recent weeks, including Keith Olbermann, former New York Times statistician and writer Nate Silver and columnist Jason Whitlock, hired away from Fox days ago.

Ultimately, however, Fox's biggest challenge will be to break viewers of the habit of turning to ESPN for sports.

This year, Eric Shanks, co-president of Fox Sports, said sports fans are ready for an alternative to the establishment.

Starting today, we'll see if that's true.

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