Fox Sports 1 vs. ESPN? Please Shelve That "Battle" For At Least Five Years


In August, as Fox Sports prepared to roll out its new channel and challenge ESPN, the media lapped up the Fox vs. ESPN narrative and weighed in with Hot Takes on when/how/why the upstart might dethrone the champ.

One month in, and you can’t find anyone mentioning Fox and ESPN in the same breath. Here’s what Ad Week wrote – I use that word loosely; it basically reads like a press release – about the first 30 days for Fox Sports 1: FS1 ratings should be compared to those of its predecessor, Speed Network, and FS1 is dominating the ‘second tier’ sports offerings on cable, such as NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network, the latter of which has such a tiny footprint, it doesn’t even register with Nielsen.

In that same period, FS1 made short work of the rest of the second-tier sports nets, out-rating MLB Network (235,000 viewers), NBCSN (100,000) and Golf Channel (97,000). (With a distribution footprint of just 48 million homes, CBS Sports Network is not rated by Nielsen in an official capacity.)

In its first month on the air, FS1 topped NBCSN 24 out of 30 nights among men 18-49.

Ad Week does at least mention ESPN – once – but spends most of the article highlighting the obvious: Of course FS1’s ratings were going to trump that of Speed, which was only viewed by car racing fans. If the numbers didn’t obliterate those generated by Speed, then Fox executives would be trembling with fear. And of course Fox was going to destroy NBC Sports Network. Again, the only way this is a story is if the numbers weren’t a landslide.

Which leads to this: Fox Sports vs. ESPN isn’t a thing. It won’t be a thing – not now, not next year, and not the following year. It shouldn’t be a point of discussion for at least five more years, when Fox adds the NBA (the network is going all out to acquire hoops) and adds more relevant live sports, which you can build around and drive interest/ratings. In 2016, Fox will have to back up the brinks and acquire some Big Ten football rights.

Fox’s top priority for 2014 should be to fortify its struggling website (yes, I know it has scale thanks to the MSN firehose) and meek radio offerings to generate a three-pronged attack like ESPN. Scott Van Pelt hosts a radio show … and then Sportscenter, and then pops up on Gameday. Colin Cowherd has a radio show, and now a football show on TV. You read Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter online, follow their tweets, then hear them on the radio and watch them on TV. Wright Thompson, Matthew Berry, I could go on.

Slowly but surely, if you look closely, more and more writers from ESPN websites – Field Yates of ESPN Boston, Ashley Fox from, etc – are turning up on TV and on the radio. ESPN beats you over the head with synergy. Weaving the three properties together is obvious, yet crucial, and while many media entities have multimedia options, all of them fail to promote one another with the same kind of balance ESPN is able to do.

Back to the Ad Week piece. Here’s what it writes about the new Regis Philbin show, ‘Crowd Goes Wild’:

One FS1 property that hasn’t shown signs of early promise is the 5 p.m. panel show Crowd Goes Wild. Anchored by Regis Philbin and featuring a collective of talking heads (Georgie Thompson, Michael Kosta, Trevor Pryce, Jason Gay and Katie Nolan), Crowd’s weekday telecast last week averaged just over 65,000 viewers. On Sept. 9, Crowd drew a mere 28,000 viewers, its lowest turnout to date.

The early scuttlebutt is that there are two names who have jumped out internally as “not really working” on the show so far: Trevor Pryce and … Regis Philbin. I don’t anticipate a move until Christmas at the earliest, but if you turn on the show one day and Regis is off and in his chair is a prominent athlete – Tuesday it was Floyd Mayweather – consider that a tryout. I don’t see Regis going anywhere yet, though – he was a big draw for advertisers.