Ever since that afternoon in May when it was announced, we've been eagerly anticipating Fox Sports 1. Well, sports media nerds like me have been anticipating it; I think most of you have merely tolerated that this was going to happen. As much as we all cry and whine about how we want a new ESPN alternative, I don't think anyone is, like a sports fan, out there to root Fox Sports 1 on or fly a banner or paint their face.
That said, you will need to have Fox Sports 1 just on its programming slate alone. It has major college football from the Big 12 and Pac-12, major college basketball from those two and the rechristened Big East. Next year, it will be home to a good percentage of the MLB Playoffs. Fox Sports 1 is making it its business to be home to UFC, which I've never gotten into but has an insane, passionate fan base. It has made it clear that all sports talk is open for business by hiring analysts from each of the four major sports, and launching soccer and NASCAR shows.
Fox has positioned itself as the "fun" alternative to the "intellectual" ESPN, which every sports media writer has (rightfully) abused like a piñata for its absurdity. Fact is, Fox's idea of "fun" should be about shaking things up, and not only challenging what ESPN does with an alternative, but rethinking sports television itself. Find small ways to innovate, and make sure most of your shows don't make me roll my eyes six times an hour. Being fun is cute, but being good, and being successful, is fun.
You know that if you've read this website, I've done as much studying as anyone on Fox Sports 1, what its schedule will be like, and who its personalities will be. I think it has a real shot at being good. That doesn't mean it'll take down ESPN -- that simply isn't realistic in the short term. It has to, in terms of audience, beat NBCSN and CBSSN (the latter of which doesn't give out ratings figures, but nonetheless), and it has to have at least as much critical success as ESPN.
That's more general stuff, but after looking everything over, I've got some immediate thoughts. They may change the second the network flips the switch at 6 a.m. ET Saturday (with a Fox College Kickoff show) but for now, here are some things I think Fox can do in the short term to get people's attention once the promotional madness dies down.
Let Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole do their show.
I think everyone kinda suspects these two will do well with American sports fans. If you read the interview I did with them, they clearly have the right attitude about it. I think there's no question that Onrait and O'Toole will be one of the best things about sports television in the U.S. seconds after their debut. The question is: will the panel show that mixes in with their typical highlight/anchor show work? That's what we're going to find out.
Now, Charissa Thompson is an excellent broadcaster. Gary Payton's presence intrigues me, as does Andy Roddick's. My question is just about how this will fit together. I wonder if Fox shouldn't consider that, if it turns out a bit messy when it gets on the air, why not make the panel show its own, one-hour broadcast? Say, if Regis' show doesn't work, or even just splitting it up? An hour of the anchordesk, an hour of panel, and an hour of the anchordesk again? It might make for a more varied, late-night lineup.
It'll be interesting to see, especially since the panel won't be seven days a week. On Sunday nights, Jay and Dan will work the show on their own. Fox Sports 1 would be wise to monitor how that program does in terms of ratings, and especially on social media. If it does, maybe consider letting them have the whole hour.
Give Regis time, but not too much time.
I've done a heel turn on Crowd Goes W!ld, the one-hour evening show that Regis Philbin will broadcast at 5 p.m. ET. Here's the weird thing: I've actually heard some good stuff from people who've taken a look at it. And, I guess the question is, why wouldn't it? Soccer fans know Georgie Thompson from Sky Sports (who's work has aired on Fox Soccer), Jason Gay is a superb sportswriter, and hell... Regis Philbin is Regis Philbin. He's been broadcasting since before all of our parents were born.
Now, I've still held my doubts about whether or not the show will work, and some of that remains. Regis having only a five-month contract (though Fox denies this) is concerning a bit, too. But give the show at least until that contract supposedly runs out. Don't stick with it too long, but it's not completely unreasonable to think that this won't be a train wreck.
Break meaningful news.
Fox has the rights to two sports that are making a lot of news for the wrong reasons right now: baseball and college football. Throw yourselves, and the journalists and regional reporters in Fox's stable, into the Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Manziel scandals. Just because they aren't fun doesn't mean they're not worth going after. Find a way to break some news so that you'll be part of the national conversation. This is where ESPN beats everyone: it not only contributes to these stories, it often dictates how we see them, and therefore how we perceive them.
It's not just that, though -- break trade news and free agent signings. Be the place that everyone goes to because they might find out that somebody got traded. This is going to be the network of Jay Glazer and Ken Rosenthal. They should be more than capable of filing stories that force ESPN to put "Fox Sports is reporting..." on their bottom line.
Keep making game production a premium.
No matter what you knock about ESPN, its live game coverage is pretty unassailable. Sunday Night Baseball has gotten really good in the past couple of years, and its Monday and Wednesday night broadcasts are trying out new things, like having Doug Glanville and Mark Mulder commentate from the dugouts. Its college football and basketball is the best in the business, and nobody does soccer better (though now that it has less, NBC will be giving ESPN a run for its money).
Fox is going to start out with a lot of live-game programming, essentially combining a lot of stuff that had aired across Fox, FX and Fox Sports Net over the past few years. Make sure it's good, and make sure the Fox Sports 1 game broadcasts can be good enough so that people say, "Well, at least they do that well." And really, that's going to end up being a big part of the bottom line, since games are where most of the viewers come from.
Forget ESPN exists, at least for a little while.
This is the biggie. Those "fun" promos have ruffled some feathers at ESPN, as we've seen a lot of jokes from network anchors about the idea. The great thing is, Fox Sports 1 has forced ESPN to play its hand. As much as the network will deny it, Keith Olbermann, Nate Silver, Jason Whitlock ... these are hires that force you to keep ESPN at attention.
They also make ESPN better, and they're going to force Fox Sports 1 to do an even better job. Hell, I got a press release from NBC a month ago that pointed out (via its Premier League launch on Saturday) that Fox won't be alone in making big changes to the sports landscape on Saturday. This is good for the viewer. These networks have the rights deals that will keep them in business for decades; they might as well push each other while they're at it. In a way, Fox Sports 1 already scored a minor victory. In another way, however, it has made the mountain harder to climb.
Let's, in hockey terms, drop the puck and get this over with already. Let's watch some guys and gals in makeup talk about sports. This is going to be a fun. Not just for Fox, though.