After originally trying to compete head-to-head against ESPN in the national cable sports arena, Fox Sports Net now wants to form a league of its own by developing more entertainment-based fare.
Buoyed by the success of the Best Damn Sports Show Period ,
FSN has six sports entertainment shows in development that it hopes will help it attract a target audience of more moderate sports fans, said president Tracy Dolgin.
When Fox Sports Net launched in 1997, Fox Sports envisioned that the umbrella service for its 18 owned or affiliated regional sports networks could effectively create a national footprint that would allow it to compete with ESPN on the national news-and-information front.
But while FSN's magazine and anthology shows — like The Last Word With Jim Rome
and Beyond the Glory
— have found receptive audiences, the network's all-sports news offering, The National Sports Report,
failed to draw high ratings. In fact, it was outperformed by Fox's Regional Sports Report
in most markets.
NEW YEAR, NEW LOOK
In January, the network officially decided to change its philosophy and move away from a traditional presentation of sports news and information. FSN dropped its National Sports Report
in favor of the more entertainment-based The Best Damn Sports Show Period.
The two-hour daily primetime series revolves around actor Tom Arnold and several ex-jocks, who talk sports with athletes and entertainment personalities. It also features two sports-news breaks each hour.
Dolgin said Fox is now focused on building additional entertainment aspects into its news-oriented sports to reach what he called the moderate sports fan.
"The moderate guy is 62 percent of the audience, and he's as concerned about what the athlete was thinking about when he made the big play as with the latest scores and highlights," Dolgin said. "With The Best Damn Sports Show, you're getting the information about who won or lost, but you're also listening to ex-athletes talk about sports the way they talk about sports, not the way news people talk about sports."
The move has yielded viewership dividends for FSN. Since January, The Best Damn Sports Show
has consistently increased its gross household viewership numbers in primetime.
FSN would not reveal the program's specific ratings for the program. It's difficult to accurately gauge the show's performance, FSN said, because it's often pre-empted by live game telecasts.
Dolgin said the network has six new sports-entertainment shows in development, although he would not reveal titles or specifics. "Out of those, at least one or two will see the light of day," he said. "We're trying to produce the kind of sports entertainment shows that have never existed before, so there's no roadmap to follow. It's part sports side, part entertainment side."
FSN's nontraditional approach to sports news and information has also influenced its Regional Sports Report
Dolgin dismissed critics who said that FSN's regional telecasts have taken on a "homer" mentality. The Regional Sports Reports
are popular because without sacrificing their journalistic integrity, the programs offer "passionate" coverage that most fans can relate to, he said.
"Sports journalists often view sports as news and religion, but the fan doesn't view it that way," Dolgin said. "You have to give fans a place where they can get what they want and that's the concept behind Fox Sports."
Overall, FSN hopes to continue the ratings momentum it built last year, when it scored double-digit gains in total-day audience and household impressions.
"It shows the power of the Fox brand and it shows that Fox had the right idea that making sports entertaining for people is smart business decision," Dolgin said.