Said Glazer: “I think we look at this more as NFL uncensored — NFL after dark.”
Fox executives stress how “fun” their programming will be, featuring the personality, edginess and technological ambition that became hallmarks for Fox. The tone for Fox Sports 1 will be set by the nightly update show, “Fox Sports Live,” the channel’s answer to ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” Fox recruited Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, popular anchors in Canada but relatively unknown in the United States, and will rely on a cast of analysts such as Donovan McNabb, Gary Payton and Roddick to fill the gaps among highlights, scores and news.
Already, the attitude is apparent. The show tweeted last weekend: “You officially have ONE WEEK to enjoy whatever else might be on television. We’re coming.” Bill Simmons, ESPN’s online tour de force, responded: “Settle down.”
By publicly taking aim at ESPN, Fox Sports 1 has created some buzz — and certainly has attracted the attention of ESPN brass. There have been bidding wars for some talent, and ESPN executives say the arrival of new competition played a role in the recent hirings of Keith Olbermann, Nate Silver and Jason Whitlock, who had been at Fox the past six years and was making plans to launch a show of his own before coming to terms with ESPN earlier this week.
“We’ve faced competition from the early days of ESPN,” said John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming. “Competition is nothing new. We have respect for the folks at Fox. At the same time, we think we’re at a very strong position in many facets.”
While ratings and advertising dollars pose a constant challenge, ESPN’s coffers are constantly refilled. Cable companies currently pay less than a quarter per month per subscriber for Speed, which pales in comparison with what ESPN charges: more than $5 per customer each month. That means with nearly 100 million subscribers, ESPN pulls in around $6 billion before airing a single ad — and that’s only for its flagship network.
Industry insiders say it would take years for Fox Sports 1 to charge the kind of money and because ESPN has exclusive rights to so many live events locked up, plus an ever-present brand, its position at the top is safe.
For now, Fox executives are happy to have a place on the dial, eager to show that ESPN’s way of covering sports isn’t the only way.
“This is all great for sports fans,” Weisman said. “They’ll be able to see more programming of the sports they follow, and they’ll be exposed more to more minor sports, those that aren’t televised as much. You’ll see sports covered much greater than you have before.”