Fox Sports 1 set to take on ESPN: Cable network will debut this summer

Earlier this week Chase Carey, who is No. 2 only to Rupert Murdoch in the News Corp. hierarchy that ultimately runs Fox Sports, referred to the launch of a Fox cable network to compete with ESPN, as “the world’s worst kept secret.”

Coming to a TV set near you this summer is Fox Sports 1.

It won’t have the immediate oomph to rival the self-proclaimed World Wide Leader in sports but as the likes of Nike and Apple and David have taught, you have to start somewhere when you hope to battle Goliath.

Fox Sports 1 has been such a poorly kept secret because the Foxies have been out trying to position the upstart network for future deals. They had to tell the NFL, MLB, etc. it was coming. Potential advertisers and cable carriers have had to be in the loop. It’s an impossible scenario to keep under wraps.

“We can build businesses that capitalize on the other assets we own, and we do think sports is an opportunity here,” Carey, New Corp.’s chief operating officer, told business analysts this week.

Using information gleaned from network sources, here is what we do know about Fox Sports 1:

It will launch on cable systems on channels currently occupied by Fox’s Speed channel, which is currently available in a healthy 87 million homes. It’s not the 99 million that are home to ESPN, but it’s close enough.

On the day it launches, Fox Sports 1 will have more stature and ultimately tonier programming than NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network.

Much of Speed’s programming will zoom over to Fox-owned Fuel TV, which itself may be re-branded Fox Sports 2, the answer to ESPN2.

Fox Sports 1’s immediate programming will come from the best of Speed’s NASCAR coverage, FX’s college football package (think Big 12 and Pac-12) and its UFC mixed martial arts programming. Fox Soccer channel will kick over the best programming it has to offer.

Already Fox has a deal with MLB for national Saturday afternoon cable games beginning in 2014. You can guess where those will wind up.

As for college basketball, discussion already have begun with the upstart Catholic Seven _ DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova.

And then there is the biggest fish in the cable sea _ the NFL. The NFL is not married to 16 games on NFL Network. There is a very real possibility that as early as 2014, the league will sell off the first eight weeks of Thursday night games to the highest bidder. If you think Fox Sports 1 won’t pony up the necessary billions of dollars, you haven’t paid attention to the way Fox Sports has done business the last 20 years.

If the Foxies can add the NFL to MLB and the rest of its offerings, they will be off to a solid start. You can be sure that the Fox Sports 1 will offer its own original programming to rival SportsCenter. Already there is talk about a “The View”-like chat show that will concentrate on sports.

Coincidentally, on Friday afternoon, I talked with a big-name broadcaster who lives in the area. He mentioned that he was headed to Fox offices in Los Angeles next week to chat in general about job prospects.

“How do you devour a whale?” a Fox Sports executive offered on Friday afternoon. “One bite at a time.”