In the days and weeks before it launched, Fox Sports 1 sold itself as the “fun,” “irreverent” sports channel.
This branding — and the company’s persistent use of the word “fun” in promotional materials — has been mocked by sports media wonks, bloggers and ESPN competitors.
We asked FS1 about the “fun” label in a Q&A with EVP Bill Wanger (one of the architects behind the channel), and he clarified that “fun” content means exciting/interesting content, not “funny” content.
“First, fun doesn’t necessarily mean funny. There will be times where serious news and issues need to be covered and we’re ready for that. At other times, a laugh or two may be OK. We think there’s a large number of sports fans who are looking for a fresh approach to the games and shows they watch, and by fun we hope to celebrate the things that draw us to sports. Buzzer beaters are fun. Big hits are fun. Pennant races are fun. ESPN does a terrific job doing what they do, but we think there’s a different way, and we’ve spent several months developing a different look and feel that we think will resonate with fans.”
Ultimately, the success or failure of FS1 will be determined by live sports — both the rights it has and the way it broadcasts games.
But there were possible pre-launch red flags about whether “fun” was code for “dumbed down,” and FS1 looks to be working to quell those worries.
Here’s our entire Q&A with Wanger.
BUSINESS INSIDER: What are you most excited for viewers to discover about FS1?
BILL WANGER: There’s really so much that we’re excited about, from great events, to big name talent, to fresh, original shows. If I had to single out one show, it would be” FOX SPORTS LIVE,” our nightly news, highlights, and analysis show. We’ve imported two terrific anchors, Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, from TSN in Canada, and they’re sharp and clever in the way they present highlights and news. People will find them very refreshing. Between the news and highlights, the show also features commentary from a panel that is hosted by Charissa Thompson who is joined by former pros Donovan McNabb, Andy Roddick, Gary Payton and Ephraim Salaam. The set is state of the art, the graphics are alive and full of energy, and the overall approach is different than what fans are used to, so we’re excited about it.
BI: What makes Fox Sports 1 different from similar sports networks content-wise?
BW: Investing in a news operation definitely makes us different compared to most other sports networks. We’re also really fortunate to launch with a full and robust schedule of live games and events: NASCAR, UFC, college football, college basketball, international soccer, MotoGP, Golden Boy boxing, “The Ultimate Fighter,” and much, much more. Next year we have MLB, regular and postseason. In 2015 our new agreement with the USGA kicks in and we’ll have championship golf. The World Cup is also coming in a few years. FOX Sports 1 is launching with about 5000 hours of live games, events, and original programming. We wouldn’t have taken this step if we didn’t have this type of quality content.
BI: What are you guys focused on improving when it comes to live sports? What do you think can be done to enhance the experience of watching live sports on TV?
BW: Not sure that “improving” the live sports experience is what we’re trying to do. 20 years ago, FOX Sports introduced an approach to sports production based on sugar-coating the information pill. “FOX NFL SUNDAY” is a perfect example of that approach, and that’s why it’s been the no. 1 NFL pregame show since its inception. We hope to apply that founding philosophy to our studio shows, original programs, and game productions and give fans what they want.
BI: How do you feel about ESPN making a few huge hires (Keith Olbermann, Nate Silver, Jason Whitlock) seemingly in response to FS1 launching?
BW: We’re involved in a very competitive business. It’s pretty unrealistic to think that others would sit back and do nothing while we launch and establish ourselves. Keith and Jason had their runs here, and now both are with ESPN. Obviously, ESPN thinks they will make what they already offer better.
BI: Pre-launch articles about FS1 have described ESPN as the wonky sports channel and FS1 as the “fun” sports channel. Which types of viewers specifically will FS1 cater to that ESPN doesn’t?
BW: First, fun doesn’t necessarily mean funny. There will be times where serious news and issues need to be covered and we’re ready for that. At other times, a laugh or two may be OK. We think there’s a large number of sports fans who are looking for a fresh approach to the games and shows they watch, and by fun we hope to celebrate the things that draw us to sports. Buzzer beaters are fun. Big hits are fun. Pennant races are fun. ESPN does a terrific job doing what they do, but we think there’s a different way, and we’ve spent several months developing a different look and feel that we think will resonate with fans.
BI: What’s your response to the widespread assumption that FS1 is the first legitimate threat to ESPN?
BW: We’ve determined that there is room in the marketplace for more than one national sports network, and we have an opportunity to carve out what we expect to be a good, long-term business for 21st Century Fox. It’s flattering that people have looked at what we’ve built and determined that we could compete with ESPN, but right now we’re focused on getting up and running. Once that’s done, we’ll work to improve, evolve and grow.
BI: Do you worry about the “ESPN killer” tag creating unattainable expectations?
BW: Again, it’s flattering that people seem to believe in what we’re planning to do, but realistically they have a 34-year head start. Out of the gate, our audiences will be modest. That’s just reality for new networks. It takes time to build audiences. As long as we reach the goals we’ve set for our business on on-air product, we’ll succeed, and we believe those goals to be absolutely attainable.
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