ESPN held a media day at its sprawling Connecticut office complex Wednesday, and Fox Sports 1 was a big talking point.
FS1 was billed as a legitimate threat to ESPN hegemony before its launch. It debuted to a ton of media hype and ok ratings last weekend.
So what do ESPN people think about FS1?
A couple of ESPNers at least acknowledged that the launch of FS1 has put the company on notice.
Long-time “SportsCenter” anchor Steve Levy said the launch has “energized” his show.
“I can tell you our show meeting on Saturday had a different feel to it than previous show meetings. Everyone is well aware of what’s at stake here and what’s going on and we’re rather confident,” he said.
SportsCenter executive producer Mark Gross echoed those same sentiments.
“Even in the last five-six days it just feels like it reenergized us a little bit,” he said.
Others acted like FS1 doesn’t exist. Both Keyshawn Johnson and Tedy Bruschi said they hadn’t watched FS1, and “College Gameday” producer Lee Fitting went out of his way to shoot down rumours that his show expanded to three hours as a reaction against FS1 launching its own college football pregame show.
Beyond that, the company line around ESPN is that competition makes everyone better, and that they welcome the challenge of having a new, young upstart in the sports media game.
ESPN president John Skipper didn’t seem overly concerned when he was asked about FS1, even as he acknowledged that they’re trying to siphon off ESPN viewers. Here’s what he said:
“I don’t think they’re going after a different audience. There is no different audience. If you’re interested in sports, you’re watching and consuming ESPN. One hundred and 50 million people every week consume ESPN.
“I think [FS1] is looking to be a point of difference for some of those people. They have a lot of emphasis on UFC in their early broadcasts. That’s a young male audience, I think they’re probably looking for a young male audience. That audience is watching ESPN. I don’t think they’ll be bringing new people into watching sports. So by definition I think they’re looking to siphon off some of our viewers or have our viewers spend more time on sports. And some of both could happen.”
While FS1 is certainly on their radar, the sky is not falling as ESPN. Not even close.
Here are some full quotes from media day.
Steve Levy (“SportsCenter” anchor) on Fox Sports 1:
“The fact that there’s new competition in the playing field absolutely energized us.”
“It’s been a nice bump. I can tell you our show meeting on Saturday had a different feel to it than previous show meetings. Everyone is well aware of what’s at stake here and what’s going on and we’re rather confident. We like our chances to continue on top.”
Seth Markman (senior coordinating producer, NFL studio shows) on FS1 pushing the notion that they are “fun” and ESPN is “academic”:
“That’s how they attacked it, sort of like, let’s paint ESPN as your grandfather’s network and we’re the new kids, the fun kids. They’re doing it from a PR standpoint. I watched their first few shows pretty closely, I don’t think they’re having anymore fun than our guys are having right now on our shows.”
Mark Gross (“SportsCenter” executive producer), on his impressions of FS1’s “SportsCenter” clone “Fox Sports Live”:
“My impression so far is that it’s pretty much what I thought it would be. They’ve got their highlight desk, with the two anchors from TSN, and they’ve got their panel. I think it’s way too early to fully evaluate where that show is going. It’s been on the air for less than a week.”
Skipper, when asked to respond to Fox Sports 1 getting only 23 cents per subscriber from providers (ESPN gets ~$US5.15):
“I’m happy for them. In 35 years they may find that compound increases are quite profound.”
Lee Fitting (senior coordinating producer, “College Gameday”) when asked whether he’s worried about Fox Sports 1 right now:
“No. I tell folks my wife and I having a saying at home when it gets crazy with our parents and relatives, and we have two words that we say to each other, ‘Four walls. Let’s worry about what’s going on in our four walls.’ And that’s my message to our staff and on-air guys. To put on a three-hour “Gameday” is crazy every week, moving parts and travelling from site to site. We have enough to worry about trying to put on the best show in the business that I’m not really concerned with what anyone else is doing.”
Fitting on whether “College Gameday” expanding by one hour was a response to FS1’s counter programing:
“I keep hearing that it’s a precursor to what Fox is doing. We expanded from an hour to 90 minutes when there was no competition. We expanded from 90 minutes to two hours when there was no competition. If you look back at the history of expansion of the show it’s sort of been the same number of years between expansions. … I have no worries about what we’re doing.”
Gross, on FS1 execs saying they want to take down “SportsCenter”:
“I take it as a compliment. That’s a great compliment. It’s taken us over 30 years to build SportsCenter and we’re continuing to build and evolve it. I think this whole thing, this whole experience to a certain degree, with their launch, even in the last 5-6 days it just feels like it reenergized us a little bit. Ultimately, it will make us better.”
Keyshawn Johnson (NFL commentator):
“I don’t really watch other networks, to be honest with you. I doesn’t affect me.”
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