Fox Sports 1 Hopes to Grow Into ESPN Rival

Advertisers Flock To Live Sports, But How Much Is Too Much?

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News Corp. unveiled its plans Tuesday for Fox Sports 1, a national cable sports channel, raising the question of whether another TV outlet offering live sports can lure advertisers seeking to reach the coveted -- and sometimes hard to find -- 18-to-49 male audience.

Of course, new competition is a positive for advertisers, giving media buyers leverage in negotiations. But if sports budgets remain the same, another national sports network could splinter the flow of ad dollars, as well as any network's viewer base.

Fox is converting the cable network currently known as Speed into Fox Sports 1 starting on Aug. 17. At launch, the network will be in 90 million homes and will feature college basketball and football, Nascar, soccer and UFC. In 2014 Major League Baseball will be added to the schedule.

Leading up to the Super Bowl, which will air on Fox in 2014, Fox Sports 1 will air a week-long countdown, including a tailgate party in New York City's Times Square.

Aside from live sports, Fox Sports 1 will also air "Rush Hour," a sports talk show hosted by Regis Philbin; "Fox Football Daily," an extension of "Fox NFL Sunday;" and "Being" a docu-program giving a behind-the-scenes look at athletes, teams and sports icons.

The sports market has become increasingly crowded. Aside from the juggernaut, ESPN, NBC and CBS also have nascent sports outlets on cable, while everyone from NFL to MLB have started their own networks. Even conferences like The Big Ten and Pacific-12 have channels.

Despite this competition, Toby Byrne, president of ad sales at Fox, said "the appetite for sports seems insatiable."

Fox Sports executives don't expect to overtake or even be on par with ESPN overnight and are looking out two to three years before they expect the new channel to gain real inertia.

Fox Sports quietly restructured its advertising divisions recently, with broadcast, national cable and digital all coming together, which Mr. Byrne said will allow the division to present comprehensive packages to advertisers.

Mr. Byrne said Fox Sports 1 is now open for business and initial discussions with advertisers have been positive. "The ad community loves to see an alternative," he said.

Fox Sports has been experimenting with the "double box" commercial format, which is intended to keep viewers engaged through commercial breaks. This format is expected to be a staple at Fox Sports 1.

Fox Sports is also hoping the rebranding will boost the fees it charges pay-TV providers to carry the network. RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank estimates News Corp. currently receives 22 cents per subscriber for Speed, but predicts it could garner about $1 for Fox Sports 1. In comparison, ESPN charges over $5 per month.

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