From his standing desk inside Fox’s expansive urban office on 6th Avenue in Manhattan, Mark Evans surveys the landscape of the future of the sports media world with insight and authority few in the industry possess. For one, he’s the SVP of Sales at Fox Sports, meaning he plays a big role in what happens at one of the largest media companies in the world and has intimate conversations with other powerful people who likewise hold media insights few have. But perhaps even more important than that, Evans has been working in sales for a long time, 25 years at Fox to be exact, starting there around the same time they acquired the rights to air NFL games and rising as the company around him did as well.
“The change in media has been seismic on literally every level,” Evans says. “And there’s more to come.”
During an hour-plus long conversation with The Big Lead, Evans opened the door to several interesting subjects and provided us with insights on everything from the developing relationship between gambling and sports, the future of live sports distribution, and Fox’s role in the current and future of American sports coverage, which is where we’ll start today.
Here’s a hint: They’re going big.
“We are very much interested in acquiring additional conference rights,” Evans said of Fox’s plans for their college football coverage. “We’re going to be very aggressive in trying to rest some of those rights to really round out our portfolio.”
Fox is directly challenging ESPN with its own college football pregame show this year. The biggest difference is Fox is following up their pregame show with the marquee games they have in the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12. But, as you can tell based on what Evans said, their ambition doesn’t end there.
“You add another major conference to what we already have, and you’re a major player,” he says.
He wouldn’t say it, but the SEC seems like their next target.
“I absolutely did not say that,” Evans responded with a laugh when asked if that’s where their focus was.
Beyond football, Fox has already taken a big leap into the WWE, acquiring the rights for SmackDown at a time when WWE ratings are trending downward. But Evans is not concerned, saying that’s the wrong word in terms of their feelings about the WWE ratings.
“We feel how we’re going to present and how we’re going to promote the WWE is going to inject it with such a new life,” Evans said. “It’s going to be a home run for us.”
Fox has also expanded its coverage of niche sports like surfing, bowling, car racing and others in addition to its NFL, MLB, FIFA and college football portfolio. So where else could Fox go?
“Hockey,” Evans said. “Hockey’s [TV rights] are up after two more seasons. That could be a place that we’d like to delve back into.”
Evans clearly has grand ambitions for the future of Fox, and his youthful exuberance speaking about the prospects of each opportunity made the possibility feel more palpable. Of course, he could just be blowing smoke, trying to get the competition to pay more for rights Fox really has no interest in. Regardless, he, like most in this industry, understand the competition to earn those broadcasting rights (IE pay the most for them and have broadcast operations set up) and stay relevant is getting tougher and deeper. Ultimately the decision of who takes home the prize is in the hands of the league’s that produce the product. Who wins that bidding war is anyone’s guess, but in our next segment of this series, being released tomorrow, we’ll delve into how broadcasting rights could change in the near future.