The self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” first took the sporting news throne in 1979, and since then nobody has dared to challenge the ESPN monopoly. Though the Disney owned media outlet has sat comfortably atop the nearly nonexistent competition for roughly 35 years, it’s first worthy opponent has finally emerged. This is because as of August 17th, Fox has transformed its low traffic Speed and Fuel networks into FS1 and FS2, which model themselves after ESPN and ESPN2 and provide TV viewers with an alternative to the cable powerhouse.
At the start, Fox Sports 1 has little to no chance of challenging ESPN. The previous Fox run Speed and Fuel networks brought in a miniscule 30 cents and 20 cents per subscriber for cable networks each month, dwarfed by the $5 per subscriber that ESPN earns. For FS1, it is going to be a lengthy process of slowly earning the attention of viewers as time progresses, but it sure helps to be backed by a global multi-billion dollar company who is determined to tap into the sporting world. Early forecasts predict Fox’s sports networks will triple their shares per cable subscriber within the first year, and will bring in roughly $1 billion dollars annually for FS1 alone. In addition, the ad-marketing value of FS1 is expected to skyrocket. Some analysts predict growths of as much as five times the value of last year’s $92 million.
Perhaps the cleverest part of the recent switch is the fact that the new networks now provide an outlet for Fox’s sports coverage deals. Fox currently has TV rights that enable them to air events from various sporting leagues such as MLB, NASCAR, UFC, FIFA, as well as PAC 12 and BIG 12 events. Thanks to FS1 and FS2, Fox not only has legitimate channels to air these events, but also arenas for its own promotion and heavy advertising, which should help boost not only the number of viewers, but also Fox’s marketability when it comes time to negotiate with future sports leagues such as the NFL and NBA.
Though Fox Sports networks will have none of the bargaining power and viewer traffic that ESPN has, it does have a significant chance at challenging ESPN’s nightly news program, Sportscenter. Up until now, Sportscenter has evolved into a stale formula that obsesses over LeBron James, Tim Tebow, and Alex Rodriguez gossip, and is hosted by robotic news anchors who are programmed to be universally funny, but never to break their professionalism. FS1’s news program, Fox Sports Live, is hosted by likeable newcomers, Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole. The new duo is hilarious, knowledgeable, self-aware, and never afraid to break character in order to crack jokes and make the evening fun. The charismatic team makes Fox Sports Live a rather refreshing alternative to Sportscenter, and is complemented by informative and insightful journalism.
The possibility of an ESPN and Fox Sports competition may prove beneficial to the consumer. If nothing else, the existence of Fox Sports will keep ESPN accountable to quality journalism, leaving less room for fluffy gossip or overblown news leads about Kobe Bryant’s de-friending of Dwight Howard on twitter and the like. Finally, for the first time, sports fans have the power of choice. Sporting news coverage is no longer in the hands of a monarchy. There is, if even on a small scale, a competition. And if there is anything that sports teaches us, it is that competition breeds improvement.