Here comes Fox with an in-your-face challenge to ESPN – a 24-hour sports cable network called Fox Sports 1, set to launch Aug. 17.
“ESPN, quite frankly, is a machine,” Fox Sports executive vice president Bill Wanger said Tuesday in announcing the venture. “They have very consistent ratings, obviously huge revenue. We’re coming in trying to take on the establishment.”
The new network will be available to 90 million homes.
“We like our position,” ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said. “We have always had vigorous competition so there is really nothing substantially new here. Others are, however, beginning to recognize what we have long known: the power of live sports, especially in light of technological advances, is substantial and brings tremendous value in today’s entertainment landscape.”
Fox has rights to college basketball and football, NASCAR, soccer and UFC for the channel. Starting in 2014, FS1 will start broadcasting Major League Baseball games.
“We believe we’ve amassed enough live events and can package and put programming around it where we can have scale,” Fox Sports co-President Randy Freer said. “We can have significance. We can be a major player in the market.”
The Aug. 17 coverage will include a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race from Michigan and a UFC event in prime time.
Regis Philbin will play host to a weekday sports talk show for the network, which will also broadcast a nightly highlights staple to go against ESPN’s SportsCenter.
But live sports are what will draw viewers to the channel.
The network wasn’t ready to announce its deal with the new basketball conference formed by breakaway Big East schools, but Fox’s executives were happy to talk up the ratings draw the league will provide.
“If you just put together great shows without the rights (to live events), there’s obviously no reason for people to come to you,” co-President Eric Shanks said.