Fox officially jumped into the increasingly crowded world of all-sports cable channels on Tuesday, announcing after months of anticipation that it will launch Fox Sports 1 on Aug. 17.
“It is a historic day for us,” Fox Sports chairman David Hill said at a news conference in midtown Manhattan that featured most of Fox Sports’ top on-air personalities.
While executives were lavish in their praise of ESPN both as a business and journalistic entity, Fox did not shy from the notion that the long-term plan is to challenge the self-described Worldwide Leader.
In a video shown to journalists and later to advertisers, Fox Sports 1 promised to “become the national sports network that fans choose first.”
For now, though, “ESPN, quite frankly, is a machine,” said Bill Wanger, Fox Sports’ executive vice president of programming and research. “We’re going to have to scratch and claw our way to the top.”
Given its rights deals, Fox is well positioned at least to surpass the NBC and CBS sports networks.
When Fox Sports 1 premieres in about 90 million homes, replacing the Speed channel, it will feature a mix of live games and studio programming, including a nightly 11 o’clock news show that will take on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
Hill called “SportsCenter” a “world class” show, adding, “It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to give it a shot.”
The channel also will feature NASCAR, UFC and college sports, including an expected deal with the basketball schools that have broken away from the Big East — and that plan to take the Big East name with them. The channel will turn Wednesdays into a UFC showcase night, including 12 live events per year.
Starting in 2014, the channel will carry MLB, including select League Championship and Division Series games.
Fox wasn’t ready to announce the Big East deal yet, nor was it ready to unveil the addition of a second all-sports channel, Fox Sports 2, that likely will come eventually.
Fox will supplement its live events with other shows, including a weekly UFC program, a daily NFL-oriented show and a talk show hosted by 81-year-old Regis Philbin.
Like CBS this winter, Fox will provide extensive programming leading up to its coverage of Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium, including a planned UFC card at the Prudential Center the night before the game.
“Fox Sports 1 and Fox broadcasting will own New York in the week leading up to the Super Bowl,” Fox Sports co-president Eric Shanks said.
Fox would not say what it will charge distributors to carry the channel, but inevitably its existence will lead to a rise in the monthly subscription fees charged to distributors.
The combination of advertising revenues and the monthly fees is the pillar on which ESPN’s empire was built, and the source of riches other media companies now are trying to tap after giving ESPN a three-decade head start.
ESPN has most of its key rights fees locked up for many years, so Fox does not pose an immediate threat. But there certainly is a mostly friendly rivalry between the two.
On Monday, ESPN made a point of posting on its public relations department’s blog a detailed breakdown of the network’s dominance.
It began with this: “When you’ve been delivering sports fans their news, entertainment and game coverage for 33 years, you tend to accumulate a lot of impressive statistics and factoids.”