America’s newest cable network Fox Sports 1 (along with its far-less talked about sister channel Fox Sports 2) debuted in mid-August giving sports fans another option to the sports mega-giant that is the ESPN family of networks.
FS1 debuted on Saturday, August 17 with programming that far exceeds your typical sports network debut – a live NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and a major Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) mixed martial arts fight featuring one of the sport’s biggest stars Chael Sonnen. That night the network also debuted “Fox Sports Live,” its competitor to ESPN’s nightly news and highlight show “SportsCenter.”
Over its first couple of weeks the network has continued to air live sporting events like soccer, boxing and more NASCAR and UFC and will continue to grow its live sporting events into the near future with college football starting up this week, Major League Baseball coming to the network in 2014 and both NASCAR’s premiere Sprint Cup Series and major golfing events like the U.S. Open coming in 2015.
There’s no doubt in my mind that FS1 is set when it comes to sporting events, if not already than certainly in the upcoming couple of years. This live programming will instantly boost FS1 to the second most watched cable sports network obviously behind ESPN, but ahead of competitors NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network, which have been around longer, but don’t really have major live sporting events.
Fox Sports 1’s biggest challenge early on is going to be trying to attract sports fans to its studio shows like its flagship program “Fox Sports Live.”
“Fox Sports Live” is a little bit of a mixed bag from the start. The show features two uniquely talented and funny co-anchors in Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole who’ve been immensely popular over the years on a Canadian version of “SportsCentre” that aired on Canada’s The Sports Network (TSN). The duo immediately rival any of the best anchors over at ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” which is saying quite a lot, but the show suffers from an unusual format. It’s almost two shows in one. It would be kind of like if ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and “First Take” melded into one. The highlights portion of the show is fine as is, but the panel discussion format hosted by former ESPN talent Charissa Thompson with past athletes Andy Roddick (tennis), Donovan McNabb (football), Ephraim Salaam (football), Gary Payton (basketball) and Gabe Kapler (baseball) as opinionists is out of whack.
The panel on Fox Sports Live is given the biggest topics of the day to debate and give their thoughts on, but it comes off as a little weird for sports fans to see a guy like Roddick talk about Alex Rodriguez on steroids or a guy like Payton talking about the latest story out of the NFL. Most fans seem to prefer actual experts on a particular sport talking about that sport, for instance Roddick talking about tennis or Payton talking about the NBA. It’s a unique idea the Fox Sports network executives had, essentially turning novice fans into panelists, but I’m not sure it will catch on.
As negative as that might sound about “Fox Sports Live,” it is actually the network’s strongest original show thus far. It frankly looks like Emmy Award winning material next to FS1’s other big original series “Crowd Goes Wild,” which airs Monday through Friday afternoon. “Crowd Goes Wild” is hosted by longtime television legend Regis Philbin, who was an awkward decision to host a show from the very beginning, but Fox Sports was likely looking for big name recognition to drive people to the show. Regis may well have driven people to the show, but the show itself has probably driven many of the viewers away. “Crowd Goes Wild” is also a panel show featuring former British sports television personality Georgie Thompson, Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Gay, comedian Michael Kosta, former NFL player Trevor Pryce and has heavy social media aspects from Katie Nolan. Gay is really the only person who seems to have any business being on a show like this. Thompson tries her best to moderate the entire thing – though shouldn’t that be Regis’ job. Yes, but he’s obviously just the face/name of the show – but things are just too wacky and seemingly disjointed on the show. Kosta is instantly one of the most annoying figures on sports television trying to bring comedic aspects to the show, but failing almost every time. “Crowd Goes Wild” is like a really bad version of ESPN’s “SportsNation.”
Fox Sports 1’s other programming is typical sports cable network stuff: NASCAR Race Hub (previously on the Speed Channel), Fox Soccer Daily, UFC Tonight and Fox Football Daily. All of these shows are like something you would see on ESPN and basically will draw people who either like the talking heads on these shows or who don’t care much for the ESPN counterparts, especially when it comes to Fox Football Daily.
Fox Sports 1 would be smart to add daily or nightly shows during the MLB and NBA season for fans of those sports, like ESPN has with “Baseball Tonight” and TNT has with “Inside the NBA,” but I’m not sure there are any plans to do so at this time.
Fox Sports 1, like all new television networks, simply needs time to grow more than anything else. If fans give the network that opportunity within a few years it might grow into a network capable of truly competing with ESPN, which is something all sports fans should want regardless of their feelings toward ESPN because competition leads to a better product all around.
If I were to grade FS1 on their first couple of weeks on the air on an A-to-F scale I would currently have to give it a decent C grade, which I’ll admit is mostly for their coverage of their live sporting events. The network does need to look into ways to improve upon their original studio shows, which I’m sure they will do if the ratings aren’t where the network thinks they should be. It’s probably way too early in the game to worry a whole lot about that right now. I have hopes Fox Sports 1 will continue to grow into the future and be a major player in the cable sports world. Only time will tell.
Fox Sports 1 can be seen locally on Conway Corp. Channel 80. Fox Sports 2 can be seen locally on Conway Corp. Channel 145.