Fox Sports 1 debuted on Saturday, presenting ESPN its most formidable challenger and sports consumers their most viable alternative to ESPN to date.
SPEED Network’s Mike Joy signed off just before 6 a.m EDT on Saturday, saying, “It’s time to switch off the ignition and turn in the keys.” He asked viewers to follow racing on Fox Sports 1, and Curt Menefee appeared on screen to welcome viewers to Fox Sports 1. He announced Fox Sports 1’s mission statement: “We’ll work for you.”
The network promised to “never take ourselves too seriously” and “never put ourselves above the game and action.” They promised to work for the viewer and present information without sacrificing accuracy.
Fox has upended the news and sports media, and they are hoping they can do the same with a 24-hour sports network in an era where live sports is king and attractive to advertisers because viewers cannot DVR those events.
College football is king on Saturdays, and so it was fitting that FOX College Football Kickoff was the network’s first program. The show lived up to the network’s mission statement and, if all of Fox Sports 1’s programs are like it, showed the network may well be an extremely formidable challenger to ESPN.
The program features Erin Andrews, who was poised and conversation as the host, banking on years of experience doing ESPN’s College GameDay and broadcasting SEC football games. Mike Pereira, Joel Klatt, Clay Travis, Eddie George and Petros Papadakis, who seems like he will be the resident defender of SEC football on the program to balance Travis’s SEC devotion, rounded out the cast.
They discussed Johnny Manziel, Alabama, analyzed the strengths of Stanford football, had regional reports from the major conferences, discussed Heisman candidates and offered national title game predictions. Granted the producers probably put in extra time to get the pilot show right, but the cast had chemistry and the program flowed well, as if had been around for years. It was comfortable and informative, just as the the network promised Fox Sports 1 would be. The segments were crisp and well produced. The show did not feel like a “start up.” It felt like an established show that finally got on the big stage, which is saying something because the cast was probably just thrown together in the last few months.
Pereira, the former vice president of NFL officiating, is a standout on the show and a character people will want to tune in in order to watch. He balances out the jocks and the writers and works well with Papadakis, who is well known to sports fans on the west coast. Travis, an entrepreneur who also knows media with his radio shows and website, also has tons of potential but seemed to most raw and insecure. His SEC segments were produced perfectly, and the producers may slowly allow more of his personality and quirkiness to shine on the show, which will make the show better. Papadakis is the loose cannon–and he works better as part of a cast than on a radio show or as the color man in the booth. The show is a great format for him. George and Klatt bring polish to the program and Andrews does a great job keeping everyone in order.
When making BCS title game predictions, everyone picked either Alabama or Stanford to be in the title game. Travis picked Alabama over Oregon. George picked Ohio State over Alabama. Pereira picked Louisville over Alabama. Klatt picked Stanford over Alabama. And Andrews picked Alabama over Stanford.
ESPN, a network that has hired Keith Olbermann again and is trying to brand around personalities like Nate Silver, whose 538 franchise the network bought, and Jason Whitlock, who will be creating a “Black Grantland,” is ironically doing what Fox News did to get blockbuster ratings in primetime. Fox Sports 1 will have to have compelling personalities that do not come off as omniscient presences, which is why mainstream networks and cable outlets like CNN whose anchors did their best to copy the Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow and the trio of Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Dan Rather on the legacy networks, ultimately left themselves to be vulnerable to Fox News.
Fox Sports 1 is also banking on UFC and NASCAR, sports ESPN does or will not have. They will try to supplement that audience with traditional fans who watch baseball, football, and, ultimately golf. The network will have Regis Philbin, Mike Tyson, Clarissa Thompson, and a roster of former athletes that will try to make the network fun and informative and a bit more casual than ESPN without coming off as disseminating fluff. The network will have signature NFL and soccer shows that will seek to keep viewers on the station.
Fox Sports 1 only look to its sister networks for inspiration and blueprints on how to take on a media giant.
As the New York Times noted, “Fox News Channel in 1996, which has upended cable news, and the Fox broadcast network’s acquisition of N.F.L. rights 20 years ago” serve as Fox Sports 1’s inspirations.
But though Fox Sports 1 also has live events–like soccer, NASCAR, Pac-12 and Big 12 football, Big East basketball, and eventually golf and World Cup soccer–the network does not have a visionary like Ailes, someone who can be to sports what Ailes has been to news.
If all of the shows turn out to be as crisp as FOX College Football Kickoff, the network may very well be one that sports fans turn on and keep on by default–and give ESPN a run for its money while allowing Fox Sports 1, of course, to up the fees that it can demand from cable providers.
Whether that becomes the case, though, will be up for debate. He is the schedule Fox Sports 1 has on tap for the network’s first three days.
SATURDAY6 a.m. – FOX College Football Kickoff8:30 a.m. – Live NASCAR Sprint Cup practice.12:30 p.m. – Live NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Michigan2:30 p.m. – Tom Brady, 1-on-1 with Michael Strahan4:30 p.m. – UFC Ultimate Insider5 p.m. – UFC pre-fight showOur one-hour show gets you ready for the prelims for UFC on FOX Sports 1, which start at 6 p.m. That leads into . . .8 p.m. – UFC on FOX Sports 111 p.m. – Debut of FOX Sports LiveSUNDAY10 a.m. – Debut of NASCAR RaceDay2 p.m. – Live MotoGP World Championship9 p.m. – UFC Unleashed: Rich Franklin vs. Wanderlei Silva10 p.m. – FOX Sports LiveMONDAY4 p.m. – Debut of FOX Soccer Daily4:30 p.m. – Debut of NASCAR Race Hub5 p.m. – Debut of Crowd Goes Wild6 p.m. – Debut of FOX Football Daily9 p.m. – Live Golden Boy boxing on FOX11 p.m. – FOX Sports Live