Fox is launching a new channel in August, determined to take on ESPN.
What does this mean for Utahns?
Not much. Except that Ute fans — and, eventually, major league baseball fans — will have to locate Fox Sports 1 in their cable or satellite lineups.
As has long been rumored, Fox will turn the Speed Channel into Fox Sports 1 on Aug. 17, Speed is in more than 90 million homes; ESPN and ESPN2 are each in 99 million.
FS1 will air Pac-12 football and men’s basketball, but Fox doesn’t get more games than it has under its current deal with the league. It will simply shift games from other channels, like FX.
FS1 will feature a variety of studio shows, but building a sports network is almost completely dependent on what events you air. And the foundation of FS1 will be:
College football • Pac-12, Big 12, Conference USA.
FS1 is planning regular Thursday-night football telecasts, which at some point will certainly include Utah games.
College basketball • Pac-12, Big 12, Conference USA.
Fox is also close to a deal with the Catholic 7/Big East.
Major league baseball • Saturday games; some playoff games (but not until 2014).
NASCAR • A variety of events (although some won’t join until 2014 or 2015).
Soccer • Fox has rights to UEFA and CONCACAF Champions Leagues, the FA Cup, and the Gold Cup — but no regular-season games.
Fox also has the rights to the men’s World Cup in 2018 and 2022 and the women’s World Cup in 2015 and 2019.
UFC • A variety of events.
Not bad, but nothing that has ESPN execs scared. Yet.
Fox is taking aim at ESPN, but the more likely casualties may be the struggling CBS Sports Network and the NBC Sports Network.
CBSSN is available in about 48 million homes; it just signed a new deal with the Pro Bowlers Association to add to Mountain West/Conference USA football and basketball, the National Lacrosse League and the NBA’s D-League.
NBCSN is in more than 80 million homes, but its strategy of paying as little as possible for sports rights isn’t working. It drew 700,000 viewers for recent NHL games featuring the streaking Blackhawks, but the rest of its programming is drawing 50,000-200,000 viewers — nationally.
You get what you pay for, and NBC paid as little as possible for the NHL and Major League Soccer. Next season, it adds English Premiere League Soccer, but that won’t threaten ESPN’s dominance.
NBC made a play for Big East (American 12?) football and basketball, but its bid was so low ESPN matched it. Speculation is that ESPN did this to block NBCSN’s growth; sources inside ESPN indicate it had more to do with the price NBC set being so low it made even a much-weakened league a bargain.
Fox, on the other hand, has never been shy about spending big. It is already making noise about going after the NBA, whose deal with ESPN/Turner expires in 2016.
So Jazz fans may eventually have to find FS1 as well.
And here’s something else to keep an eye on — can Fox get FS1 moved to a lower channels, closer to ESPN on cable and satellite systems?
Research shows channel placement matters — the lower the better. And Comcast currently has Speed on Ch. 265; ESPN is on Ch. 35. DirecTV has Speed at Ch. 607; ESPN is on Ch. 206.
So even if you learn what channel FS1 is on, you may have to re-learn it.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.