By the Staff of NYSportsJournalism.com
December 19, 2013: On Aug. 17, the Fox Sports Media Group, owned by Fox Entertainment Group, officially converted Speed Channel to Fox Sports 1, a 24/7 destination populated by such programming as Major League Baseball, Nascar, UFC, soccer and college football and basketball.
That same day, FSMG rebranded its Fuel channel to Fox Sports 2, which takes it cue from its former entity and is loaded with, but not limited to, racing events and news from around the auto world. UFC and extreme sports are also staples of FS2.
Executives said that Fox Sport 1 would initially be available in 90 million homes and offer some 5,000 hours of live programming in the first year. The launch coincided with the 20th anniversary in 2014 of Fox Sports.
But it might not have happened at all if Fox Sports had not been outbid by ESPN in 2008 for the rights to college football's Bowl Championship Series.
"Losing the rights to the BCS to ESPN was a wake-up call for us," said Michael Mulvihill, svp-programming and research for Fox Sports. "When that happened, we knew we were living on borrowed time."
According to Mulvihill, Fox executives took the loss of the prestigious BCS hard. They sat down and viewed the entire sports landscape from a rights perspective and saw that many other deals would soon be available.
"It was now or never," said Mulvihill during a sports business summit in New York this past September. "There were a lot of broadcast rights coming up that we knew would be [signed] for 10, 12, 15 years. We didn't want to be left out in the cold."
Fox Sports has added to its programming roster by signing a 12-year deal with the U.S. Golf Assn. that begins in 2015, a five-year deal with the International Motor Sports Assn., a multi-year deal with FIA Formula E Championship racing beginning in 2014 and a multi-year alliance with The Jockey Club for a thoroughbred racing series, also beginning next year.
"We believe we've amassed enough live events and can package and put programming around it where we can have scale," said Randy Freer, FSMG co-president and co-COO. "We can have significance. We can be a major player in the market."
A pre-launch marketing campaign included TV spots, with one titled "Happy Days Are Here Again," that drove home the point that FS1, unlike its older rival, was about fun. Among those included in the campaign were Joe Flacco, Mike Tyson, Jeff Gordon, Alex Morgan, Georges St. Pierre, Patrick Willis, Lane Kiffin, John Thompson III, Steve Lavin, Kasey Kahne and Miguel Cabrera.
Executives are now looking at Super Bowl XLVIII, which will air on Fox this February from MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, as an event of global proportions to help the Fox Sports Media Group spread the word about Fox Sports 1.
ESPN has not ignored this new resident in the sports neighborhood. But neither has it showed signs of surrendering any of its property.
"I don't think they're going after a different audience," John Skipper, ESPN president, said during media day at the network's headquarters in Bristol, Conn., held after FS1 launched. "There is no different audience. If you're interested in sports, you're watching and consuming ESPN [and] 150 million people every week consume ESPN . . . I think they're probably looking for a young male audience. That audience is watching ESPN. I don't think they'll be bringing new people into watching sports. [If] they're looking to siphon off some of our viewers or have our viewers spend more time on sports . . . some of both could happen."
"ESPN, quite frankly, is a machine," said Bill Wanger, evp for Fox Sports. "They have very consistent ratings, obviously huge revenue. We're coming in trying to take on the establishment. It's no different than Fox News or Fox Broadcasting back in the '80s. We're going to have to scratch and claw our way all the way to the top."
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