ESPN prepares to do battle with Fox Sports

Mitchell Layton

The Worldwide leader will prepare for a challenge from Fox Sports 1 the way it's done for every other challenger, by somehow getting even bigger.

Rumors leaked out Tuesday that Fox Sports -- which is already launching a new sports network, Fox Sports 1, on Aug. 17 -- will launch a second sports network -- Fox Sports 2 -- at the same time. If the timing of the launch seemed curious, the timing of the rumors leaking out were not. There was a not-so-coincidental reason for this information to get out when it did: ESPN held its upfront presentation.

Those of you who follow television might be familiar with the concept: a network tells a bunch of advertisers and the odd press member that everything's going great, but they've got a bunch of other stuff that will make it even greater. ESPN had star athletes (Colin Kaepernick, Victor Cruz, Mariano Rivera, Landon Donovan), star talent (Kenny Mayne, Jon Gruden, Mike Tirico, Ian Darke) and star mascots (uh, the Syracuse one that's in all the commercials). It also had a bus, which will double as a mobile studio for The Worldwide Leader.

The point is, ESPN was having itself a day. There's a reason news like this leaks out, and there's a reason news of Fox paying insane amounts of money for talent leaks out. These two networks, companies, conglomerates, whatever ... seem pretty prepared to go to war with one another.

ESPN, you might suspect, is not much for playing defense. They announced a brand-spanking new studio for SportsCenter, and a bunch of new shows that will keep them current in both the general sports business and also super-serve fans in the way some of the other sports networks that have been popping up are doing. They can do this because ESPN has the money, power, and personnel of a wealthy nation.

That said, let's take a look at some of the new stuff the network has planned for you, a lot of it conveniently timed for August, the same month in which Fox Sports 1 will hit airwaves. You know, by coincidence.

*As you all know by now, ESPN is building "Digital Center 2" which will be a brand new studio, and feature a brand new look for SportsCenter sometime next spring. The project will cost $125 million.

*ESPN is debuting another new NFL studio show, called NFL Insiders. This one actually has a bit of a twist on it: the show will be largely jock free. Hosted by Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, other than Bill Polian -- who bounced around the NFL and USFL in his day -- it won't feature former players as analysts. Instead, you'll see key contributions from John Clayton and Ed Werder during the regular season, while Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay will be frequently appearing during NFL Draft season. Former NFL GMs Phil Savage and Billy Devaney, as well as writers Ashley Fox, Dan Graziano also contribute. Suzy Kolber -- the host of the NFL32 show it replaces -- will anchor NFL Insiders, which premieres Aug. 5.

*Despite losing broadcast rights to the Barclays Premier League this year and World Cup after 2014, ESPN is increasing its soccer presence. The network remains home to the U.S. and Mexico Men's National teams, and the network will debut an hour-long, daily (Sunday-Friday) soccer show: ESPN FC. An extension of the network's ESPNFC.com. It will be a 30-minute, highlight-driven soccer show. ESPN FC will premiere Aug. 11, likely in a late afternoon timeslot.

*Colin Kaepernick will be the star of this year's ESPN: The Magazine "Body Issue."

*Finally, one particular highlight of the show was when everyone started discussing the 30 for 30 series, for which everyone at the network has a justifiable, "Haha, you can't knock us on these!" grin. And we can't! Upcoming projects include The Whack Heard Round the World (i.e. Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding), Big Shot (about fraudulent Islanders owner John Spano), and movies about the late 80s Detroit Pistons and the 1980 USSR hockey team. 30 for 30 returns Oct. 1.

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