NEW YORK -- The worst-kept secret in the sports media world -- the launch of Fox Sports 1 -- is finally out in the open.
After a year of reports and speculation, News Corp.’s Fox Networks Group officially announced at a press conference here Tuesday afternoon that it will convert Speed into Fox Sports 1 on Aug. 17. The national cable sports service will debut in more than 90 million homes, Fox said, which makes it the largest sports cable launch in history.
At the outset, Fox Sports 1 will feature 4,800 hours of live programming, 55% of which will consist of live hours, including events, news and original programming. From an event perspective, college football and basketball, soccer, NASCAR stock-car racing and the Ultimate Fighting Championship will be on tap through rights deals the programmer has inked with the various circuits.
"Our 'secret,' admittedly a very poorly kept one, is now revealed," Eric Shanks, Fox Sports Media Group co-president and chief operating officer, said. "Fans are ready for an alternative to the establishment, and our goal for FS1 is to provide the best in-game experience possible, complemented by informative news, entertaining studio shows and provocative original programming."
On its first day, Fox Sports 1 will feature live events throughout the day, including a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race from Michigan and “UFC on FS1 1” in primetime. In 2014, as Fox Sports Media Group’s new rights deal with Major League Baseball will bring regular- and post-season games to FS1’s lineup.
Launching in conjunction with the network will be Fox Sports Go, an authenticated mobile sports experience for iPhone, iPad, Android devices and the Web that will offer more than 1,000 games and events from Fox Sports, Fox Sports 1 and Fox’s 22 regional sports networks, plus scores, highlights, news, stats and analysis. Subscribers to cable, satellite and telco affiliates will have access to the “TV Everywhere” service, akin to WatchESPN.
Fox Sports Live, a 24/7 news operation will also be part of the mix, with a nightly program at 11 p.m. that will go head-to-head with ESPN’s SportsCenter.
The launch efforts will be aided in part by David Hill, the former head of the Fox Sports Media Group, who some 20 years ago spearheaded the debut of Fox Sports, seeded by News Corp.’s acquisition of the National Football Conference rights that had been held by CBS.
Last July, Hill in a restructuring was named senior executive vice president of News Corp. and oversaw domestic and international “programming and digital products, ” as Fox Sports co-presidents Eric Shanks and Randy Freer report to Peter Rice, the chairman of Fox Networks Group.
And no lie, after countless stories, Fox didn’t announce a deal with the so-called Catholic 7, the seven breakaway Big East schools that will tip off their own basketball-centric league.
The seven schools — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova — are expected to retain the conference’s old moniker and add Butler, Xavier and Creighton. Freer said Fox hopes “to wrap something up in the not-too-distant future."
Fox’s push is a gambit to produce more affiliate and advertising revenue by leveraging recently secured game and match rights. The debut of the service comes as ESPN’s empire extends across myriad sports and platforms and as NBC and CBS are trying to build the business and profile of their respective national cable services, NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network.
The already crowded sports space — which is again at the center of cries about escalating programming costs — also includes league-owned, national services from the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, as well as regional sports networks covering pro and college teams across the U.S.
The media buying community got to hear about the plans at upfront presentation at the Marquis Theater. During the presentation, Fox Sports, which touted its array of properties, including Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey, played clips trumpeting News Corp.'s upstart past. The clip extolled how Fox crashed the three broadcast network world of the 1980s and how Fox News Channel's challenged and surpassed CNN in the cable news space a decade later. The presentation noted that with the arrival of the national cable sports service, "Fox is ready to change the television landscape again."
Out of the gate, Fox Sports 1 will carry college basketball from the Big 12, Pac-12 and Conference USA and college football from those three conferences, as well as the Big Ten conference championship game. Soccer programming will include UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and the CONCACAF Champions League. The other live sports to air at launch will be the UFC, which has a fight scheduled for the Aug. 17 launch date.
In 2014, Fox Sports 1 will begin airing Major League Baseball regular season games, some playoff games and a live game-in-progress look-in show. Also in 2014, the Pac-12 Football Conference Championship game will air on FS1. NASCAR begins airing Sprint Cup Series races beginning in 2015. FS1 will also begin airing the Women's World Cup in 2015 and the Men's version in 2018.
In addition to live-sports programming, FS1 will have major news franchise Fox Sports Live, that will include regularly-scheduled programming, hourly updates and a ticker that will run at the bottom of the screen, much like ESPN has. The daily Fox Sports Live program will air at 11 p.m., going head-to-head against ESPN's flagship news show, SportsCenter. A morning newscast will launch in January 2014 leading into the network's coverage of Super Bowl XLVIII.
Along with live events and news coverage, FS1 will also have Rush Hour, which will be hosted by former Live! cohost Regis Philbin. The format will be styled after The View with Philbin serving as the host of a panel that will rotate between sports professionals, celebrity guest and fans. The one-hour Rush Hour will air at 5 p.m. and be followed by Fox Football Daily, which will be an extension of Fox's Fox NFL Sunday, the network's Sunday pregame show. Fox Football Daily will have the same talent at Fox NFL Sunday, including Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jay Glazer, as well as Erin Andrews and Gus Johnson. Both are expected to debut at launch in August.
The Fox documentary franchise BEING will air on FS1 with the first subject to be Mike Tyson.
The "double box" commercial format, which splits the screen during commercial breaks to keep one camera remaining on the field, will be the norm for FS1.
"As a company we haven't been afraid to innovate and take well-calculated risks," noted Freer. "We've devoted significant resources over the last few years to acquire and/or extend multiplatform rights with a wide variety of leagues and governing bodies well into the next decade, enough to give us a rich schedule right out of the box."
Tim Baysinger contributed to this story.