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Fox Sports Plots Major Ad Push, Will Hunt for Agencies This Fall

Will Seek Work To Rivals Weiden's 'SportsCenter' Creative For ESPN

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On the to-do list for 21st Century Fox's latest big bet, Fox Sports 1? Find itself an advertising agency -- or roster of agencies -- to deliver the kind of game-changing creative that Wieden & Kennedy has long delivered to ESPN.

Launching Aug. 17 in 90 million U.S. homes, the new 24-7 sports channel will go head-to-head with Disney's ESPN for TV viewers, advertisers and sponsors.

Fox Sports Media Group marketing chief Robert Gottlieb, left, with St. John's coach Steve Lavin, right, during a 2013 commercial shoot.
Fox Sports Media Group marketing chief Robert Gottlieb, left, with St. John's coach Steve Lavin, right, during a 2013 commercial shoot. Credit: Fox Sports

Fox Sports Media Group works with San Francisco-based Pereira & O'Dell on a project basis and is happy with the work, said Robert Gottlieb, head of marketing for Fox Sports Media Group. But Fox Sports 1 doesn't have an agency-of-record and Mr. Gottlieb said once the network is up and running this fall he'll likely start searching for a partner -- or partners -- that can come up with creative as effective as Wieden's long-running "This is SportsCenter" campaign for ESPN.

Fox Sports 1 hasn't decided if it will hold a formal agency review or approach it on a more ad-hoc basis, said Mr. Gottlieb, who reports to Fox Sports Media Group co-presidents Randy Freer and Eric Shanks. Pereira & O'Dell would be invited to participate in the review, he added.

The pitch could revolve around Fox's telecast of Super Bowl XLVIII from MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2, 2014. Fox will televise the first cold-weather Super Bowl to be held in an open-air stadium. Mr. Gottlieb said he plans to use Super Bowl week in New York as a "secondary launch window" to blanket TV viewers, advertisers and media buyers with news about Fox Sports 1 and its programs.

"We're going to try to take advantage of all the attention that's already there to refocus on Fox Sports 1 and do another push," said Mr. Gottlieb. "There's definitely big creative that we'll be unveiling ... so in the next couple of months, we probably want to start engaging on that stuff." He said Pereira & O'Dell would "definitely be part of that conversation as well."

Fox Sports 1 rolled out an ambitious, 90-second-long commercial introducing itself to American sports fans during Fox's telecast of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game Tuesday night. The celebrity-filled spot featured an array of star athletes and sports personalities, including Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens, reigning American League MVP Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, UFC champ Georges St. Pierre, St. John's basketball coach Steve Lavin, former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson and UFC President Dana White. Fox Sports 1 worked early on with an agency to create the spot, but they parted ways before the spot was completed due to "pretty vast" creative differences, said Mr. Gottlieb. He declined to name the agency. "They wanted to do a comedy spot with athletes singing," he said. "They were very wedded to the idea of doing a funny spot."

Once the current branding phase is over, Mr. Gottlieb said Fox Sports 1 will roll out new commercials touting specific new shows such as "Fox Sports Live," its nightly 11 p.m. news-and-highlights show that will go head-to-head with "SportsCenter," and "Fox Football Daily," a daily NFL show co-hosted by "Fox NFL Sunday" insider Jay Glazer.

Challenging ESPN won't be easy from a programming or advertising standpoint. Now in 100 million homes, ESPN has fended off sports cable challengers before. But Fox Sports 1 has been luring on-air stars from competitors, such as Erin Andrews from ESPN and Gus Johnson from CBS.

Additionally, ESPN outspends Fox Sports from an ad standpoint. Fox Sports spent a total of $11.9 million on measured media in 2012, according to Ad Age DataCenter; ESPN spent $63.6 million during that same period.

Still, once upon a time nobody in TV could imagine Fox News knocking CNN off its cable-news ratings throne, noted brand consultant Ernest Lupinacci. Fox now regularly out rates CNN.

Mr. Lupinacci, a former creative director who worked on ESPN and Nike campaigns at Wieden & Kennedy, isn't counting Fox out, especially if Fox Sports Live can make inroads against ESPN's bread-and-butter "SportsCenter" franchise.

"I wouldn't bet against Fox: these guys come into a category to win it," said Mr. Lupinacci, conjuring up the famous philosophy of famed football coach Vince Lombardi: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."

"Happy Days Are Here Again" -- the spot Fox Sports 1 unveiled during the MLB All-Star Game this week:

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said News Corp. owned Fox Sports 1. Fox Sports 1 is owned by 21st Century Fox.

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