By Barry Janoff
August 16, 2013: Fox Sports' national networks, Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, will debut on Aug. 17 in what Fox is calling "the biggest sports cable network launch in history, and one of the largest network launches ever."
But it might not have happened at all if Fox Sports had not been outbid by ESPN in 2008 for the rights to college football's Bowl Championship Series. ESPN in 2012 signed a 12-year deal for rights to the college football playoff series that would replace the BCS beginning in 2015.
"Losing the rights to the BCS to ESPN was a wake-up call for us," said Michael Mulvihill, svp-programming & research for Fox Sports, which held the BCS rights from 2007-2010. "When that happened, we knew we were living on borrowed time."
According to Mulvihill, Fox executives took the loss of the prestigious BCS hard. They sat down and viewed the entire sports landscape from a rights perspective and saw that many other deals would soon be available.
"It was now or never," said Mulvihill, who was part of a Fox Sports 1 panel at the Cynopsis Sports Business Summit in New York on Wednesday. "There were a lot of broadcast rights coming up that we knew would be [signed] for 10, 12, 15 years. We didn't want to be left out in the cold."
With the distribution deals unveiled on Wednesday with Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Dish, Fox Sports 1 is expected to reach 90 million homes and will have 5,000 hours of programming. There will be about 900 live events in the first year and news shows filling half the day, according to Mulvihill. The rest of the air time will feature original and studio programs, including Crowd Goes Wild hosted by Regis Philbin.
Fox Sports 1 replaces Speed TV and Fox Sports 2 replaces Fuel TV.
"There are 8,760 hours in a year, and you appreciate that number when you have to fill programming 24/7," said Mulvihill. It may be a cliche, but this is a marathon, not a sprint. Launching the NFL on Fox in 1994 has cast a long shadow on everything we do. We are very aware of the process we went through, what worked, what didn't."
Mulvihill stressed that Fox executives plan to be patient, and asked that advertisers and viewers also be patient.
"Who we are on Aug. 17 is not who we will be on Super Bowl Sunday and not who we will be a year after the launch," said Mulvihill. "It is not about the first day or the first week. It is the thousands of days that will determine how we are doing . . . This will be an evolution."
Fox is seeking not to make the same BCS mistake twice. Fox Sports late last year renewed its deal with Nascar for eight years, then this month extended the alliance for two more years, through 2024, and added three more Sprint Cup races and 14 more Nationwide Series events to its overall package.
Also this month, Fox Sports signed a 12-year deal with the U.S. Golf Assn. that begins in 2015, a five-year deal with the International Motor Sports Assn., a multi-year deal with FIA Formula E Championship racing beginning in 2014 and a multi-year alliance with The Jockey Club for a thoroughbred racing series, also beginning next year.
Key Fox Sports 1 programming will include MLB, NFL news and pre- and post-game shows, global soccer, boxing, UFC, horse racing, college hoops and college football, although not any BCS games.
"It is not about the first day or the first week. It is the thousands of days that will determine how we are doing . . . This will be an evolution."
"We are programming two types of shows for every type of fan," said Mulvihill. "Male, female; urban, rural; devoted and casual."
As for the BCS loss to ESPN in 2008 and the upcoming battle for viewers. "We like to think that we have established ourselves as a strong competitor," said Mulvihill. "ESPN doesn't have to lose for us to win."
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