The Biz: FSN to be the new face of Fox Sports

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Fox Sports Net is going short-hand. Like its closest competitor, Entertainment Sports Programming Network, now just ESPN, the News Corp.-owned sports franchise is going for the acronym FSN, in an effort to simplify the brand's identity

"Is Fox Sports Net a network? Is it Fox TV? Is it a cable company? Is it an Internet Web site? There's been some confusion there," said Eric Markgraf, the network's senior VP-marketing. "We want to clear it up."

GRADUAL ROLLOUT

The acronym will go through a gradual rollout beginning this week, with the brand name temporarily including FSN and the full name, Fox Sports Net underneath. The dual logo will make an appearance in commercials, billboards, signage, and during sports coverage on the network, until September 2004, when the FSN acronym will be left to stand on its own, just in time for the college football, NHL and NBA seasons.

"Eventually, we will just be FSN," said Mr. Markgraff, who insists the network is not copycatting the Walt Disney Co.-owned ESPN. Mr. Markgraf is effectively the head of marketing at the Fox network following the departure of Neal Tiles, formerly exec VP-marketing of Fox Sports Marketing Group, who left to join News Corp.'s satellite provider DirecTV as exec VP-marketing.

"Anyone can change their name or rebrand themselves," said Wally Hayward, CEO of Publicis Group's sports marketing shop Relay. "What story will they tell beyond the name? That's what I want to hear. FSN sounds cool to me, just like all the other networks that are abbreviated. It's a great opportunity to create buzz in the market, but beyond the name, what value proposition are they giving agencies and clients?"

According to Mr. Markgraf, the new name is indeed launching with a value proposition, one that reinforces the network's differentiation from ESPN, which is largely known as a network-actually a group of networks and a web destination-that covers sports at a national level. Fox Sports Net has made its mark, on the other hand, as a local, or regional sports network. So the FSN acronym will always include a regional identifier, such as FSN Detroit or FSN Los Angeles.

LOCAL ANGLE

The network's current TV campaign that rolled out in December, includes the comedy spot called "Chant," which celebrates local sports fans, and the "We can relate" series of ads, referring to the fact that the network can relate to fans who love their home teams. Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco, created the rebranding effort.

"In the beginning, when we first came out, we were more of a national product," Mr. Markgraf said, "but since then we moved away from that, realizing our real strength lay in the deals we made in each market. We really are the home of the home team, part of the local community and local market. Fans and consumers look to us for local sports. It's a great point of differentiation. No one else is doing it."

Fox Sports Net is also going to give regional channels production kits that will allow them to create their own on-air promos to push their local shows. Previously, most of this work was done from the corporate office in Los Angeles. Mr. Markgraf would not disclose how much money the FSN rebranding will cost. Most of it will be done through barter on Fox networks. The network will not be advertising off-channel, he said.

"Regional coverage is their strength over the other players, like ESPN," Mr. Hayward said. "They are the hometown team, the hometown network. They want to drive that home. If you look at it, the passion and loyalty of sports fans is very local, very regional. So if they can further capitalize on that, they'll have a home run."

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