News Corp introduced a long-rumored national cable television sports channel, Fox Sports 1, on Tuesday, aiming to compete with leader ESPN in an increasingly crowded TV sports marketplace.
Fox will launch the channel on Aug. 17 in 90 million homes, executives of the network said at an event in New York City. Fox's entry into the 24-hour sports network fray means that all four major broadcast networks will have a cable channel devoted entirely to sports.
Fox Sports 1 will carry college basketball games from conferences such as the Big 12 and Pac 12, college football games including a Notre Dame versus Stanford matchup, and Major League Baseball games starting in 2014. NASCAR, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) matches and soccer will also appear on the new network.
The rationale behind the new sports networks is simple: sports programming, essentially the last bastion of TV programming that viewers watch live instead of time-shifted via DVR, can be used to grab a slice of the lucrative market dominated by sports juggernaut ESPN, whose ownership by Walt Disney Co gives Disney's ABC network a sports channel.
CBS and NBC have their own sports channels.
"We believe we've amassed enough live events . . . where we can be a major player in the market," said Fox Sports Media Group's co-president and chief operating officer, Randy Freer.
Media companies from NBC to Al Jazeera are chasing the advertising dollars that flow to live sports programming, as well as the monthly subscription fees paid by cable operators that are far higher than those for other channels.
At Fox's unveiling of its new network on Tuesday, executives were flanked by on-air talent including Terry Bradshaw and Michael Strahan plus Erin Andrews, one of the reporters Fox poached from ESPN. Former daytime talk show host Regis Philbin talked about his new afternoon show on Fox Sports 1, called "Rush Hour."
Following the network's official unveiling, Fox held a splashy presentation for advertisers and analysts at New York's Broadway Theater — known in TV industry parlance as an upfront — where News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch's voice was heard on a video telling a Fox Sports executive not to mess things up.
Soccer player Hope Solo looked on as a video showed footage of ESPN's flagship show "SportsCenter" fading out due to a bad signal and being replaced by the Fox Sports 1 logo. The network's nightly show meant to take on "SportsCenter" will be called "Fox Sports Live."
While Fox may be convinced it can take on ESPN, media buyers were skeptical.
"The live sports will do well but they didn't show much of the studio programming," said Steven Guendjoian of Initiative, echoing the sentiments of other media buyers in the crowd. "I want to see more of that because that's what will make the difference."
The launch of Fox Sports 1 dovetails with News Corp's plans to split into two companies by the end of the year, with one division incorporating its broadcast and cable networks, film studio and other assets, and the other housing its newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal and New York Post.
© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.