The One Thing That Will Determine The Success Of Fox's ESPN Killer

The only thing that matters when it comes to Fox Sports 1 is how well they broadcast live sports.

Despite the red flags that we’ve seen in recent days, the quality and success of FS1 is completely tied to the quality of its live sports coverage.

If FS1 wants to compete with ESPN, it has to be as good as ESPN at the only thing people watch and care about.

Say what you will about the truly awful “embrace debate” model of sports media, but ESPN does an exceptional job covering actual live sports.

Whether its something huge like the NFL or something niche like Wimbledon, ESPN generally respects viewers, doesn’t dumb down the game and puts intelligent people who can speak the language of the sport behind the microphone.

ESPN also breaks open the piggy bank to send commentators to far-flung events, and does a great job making big games feel like momentous occasions (the 2010 World Cup is a perfect example).

There are a lot of things to hate about ESPN, but the way they broadcast live sports (the most important thing in sports media by far) isn’t one of them.

That’s part of the reason why they’ve held such a hegemonic position in sports media — there’s simply no clear reason for viewers to go elsewhere for live sports, and no clear way for competitors to create a televised live sports experience that is superior to what ESPN does.

For FS1 to succeed both critically and financially, it has to broadcast live sports with the industry standard set by ESPN.

Ignore everything else.

The red flags we’ve seen around FS1 only really matter if they diminish the experience of watching a live sporting event on the channel.

We’ve criticised FS1 for trying to push the idea that ESPN is the “academic,” “droll” channel while they are the “irreverent, “FUN” channel.

Anyone who watches ESPN would be hard pressed to describe its content as “academic,” and if FS1 wants to be a less-brainy, less-geeky ESPN, what exactly is that going to look like?

It could be a sign that they’re going to dumb things down.

It will be annoying and awful if FS1’s non-live sports content is dumber and more broad than ESPN’s, but it will be a death sentence if FS1 dumbs down or cheapens its live-sports coverage in the name of branding.

Sports viewers are notoriously possessive of their sports.

The cautionary tale for FS1 is what’s happening to BeIN Sport — the Al Jazeera-owned sports channel that launched last year.

BeIN launched with a decent amount of fanfare — it had rights to La Liga, as well the U.S. men’s national team’s away World Cup qualifiers. But it’s now considered a joke among soccer fans for the way it has handled live sports.

For the U.S. qualifiers so far, BeIN’s picture has been low quality, they’ve haphazardly shown awkward replays, they don’t even send commentators to the games, and the pregame studio show is hilariously low-fi. It’s a bad experience, especially when contrast it with the no-expenses-spared way ESPN made an huge event out of the U.S.’s qualifier in Mexico City.

BeIN has alienated soccer fans by giving viewers a sub-standard viewing experience.

FS1 can have all the terrible branded “FUN” it wants on weekdays at 2:30 p.m. when absolutely no one is watching. But it has to be dead serious about making the live sports experience measure up to the high bar set by ESPN.

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