Fox Takes on Status Quo
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 02:10
Since its launch in 1979, ESPN has lived up to its title as the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.” Today, the media giant has a virtual monopoly on the sports broadcasting industry. Popularized by its flagship “SportsCenter” program, ESPN has become synonymous with sports media; for many fans, watching the channel has become a daily routine. In the morning, they flip to ESPN to catch the latest news and last night’s scores. On the way to work or class, they tune into ESPN Radio to listen to the bickering of “Mike & Mike” or the hilarious rants of Colin Cowherd. After a long day, they flop on the couch and watch expert analysis on “Pardon the Interruption” or “SportsNation.” Later that evening, they rush back to watch a primetime football game and stick around for the post-game coverage.
Sure, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But where else do sports fans go for news and entertainment at home? There are plenty of competitors scattered across the channels, but none equal the consistent and comprehensive coverage of ESPN. While ESPN generates an incredible $5.54 of revenue per subscriber per month, NBC — its closest competitor — earns a paltry 33 cents. ESPN reaches over 100 million households; “SportsCenter” averages almost 900,000 viewers. Forbes estimates ESPN’s worth at $40 billion.
Other networks play a supporting role, filling the niches that ESPN fails to cover. NBC usually puts on a good show during its “Sunday Night Football” programming; it attracts other viewers by covering the Olympic Games, tennis, golf and Notre Dame football. NFL Network has tried to energize typically quiet Thursday nights with weekly NFL matchups. TBS gets attention during the MLB playoffs and March Madness, while TNT excels during the NBA playoffs.
As successful as these programs might be, their appeal is irregular since they focus on certain sports seasons and air just a few days every week. Although ESPN has its own problems, these smaller networks face more of an uphill climb when battling revenue and viewership issues. This year, NFL Network has struggled with decreased viewership of its Thursday night games. Similarly, NBC was criticized for delaying its coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games; and TBS baseball viewership faces tough competition from primetime football.
In contrast, ESPN excels because it has focused not only on games and big events but also on hourly news and analysis. This genre is not always exciting, since daily programming can get stale and repetitive. We even receive the same, redundant news through multiple channels – our iPhone notifications, the company website, the radio and ESPN’s four major TV channels.
But, perhaps the monopoly can be broken. This past August, FOX launched “Fox Sports 1,” a 24-hour cable channel that reaches some 90 million households. Like ESPN, it focuses on news coverage; it is the most recent challenge to ESPN’s “SportsCenter” behemoth. Imitating the colorful personalities of its competitor, Fox has hired Canadians Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole to anchor “FOX Sports Live,” the network’s flagship show, airs 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on weekday nights. Regis Philbin is the host of “Crowd Goes Wild,” and “Fox Football Daily” features analysis from the likes of newly retired NFL stars such as wide receiver Randy Moss and linebacker Brian Urlacher. Because the Big East’s broadcasting contract with ESPN expired last year, FOX Sports 1 will even be televising conference basketball games this year. This includes the new “Basketball Tip Off,” a revamped version of the traditional Midnight Madness event.
Perhaps Fox can shake up the sports broadcasting market, but I have my doubts. Consumer viewership patterns will be hard to break, and the incredible diversity of ESPN programming is difficult to match. But Fox, at the very least, will pressure ESPN to innovate. There will be new hires, new show ideas, new humor and more entertainment. In the end, it might not work out for Fox. But for us viewers, it is a win-win situation.
Nick Fedyk is a senior in the College. More Than a Game appears every Friday.