Fox Sports vs. ESPN will be a marathon

The upstart is off and running, but it'll likely take six months to a year before its real impact is clear.

By Jonathan Berr Aug 19, 2013 1:53PM
A Fox Sports commentator holds a microphone during a soccer match in The Hague, Netherlands, on August 3, 2013 (© VI Images via Getty Images)Walt Disney's (DIS) ESPN isn't breaking a sweat over this weekend's debut of Fox Sports 1, which is backed by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox (FOXA). At least, that's the case for now.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, ESPN President John Skipper noted that the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" has a more than three decade head start on the upstart network. "[T]he idea that there is some sort of sudden horse race is a little silly," Skipper told the trade publication.

Indeed, ESPN is a cash-generating machine for Disney. During the last quarter, Disney's Media Networks businesses, which includes ESPN, pulled in more than $5 billion in revenue. It also charges the highest fees of any cable network. The Atlantic recently called ESPN "the most valuable brand in America." Among the superlatives that apply to the channel are that it's the top cable network among adults and the top TV brand among men.

ESPN, though, is proving to be mortal. It has recently laid off several hundred workers as pressure on its bottom line increases. Competition is on the rise. Besides Fox, both CBS (CBS) and Comcast's (CMCSA) NBC have recently launched dedicated sports networks, which will push up the already skyrocketing rates for sports broadcast rights.

Fox Sports, which has been promoted relentlessly, garnered higher ratings than the big four networks among viewers 18 to 49, men 18 to 34 and men 18 to 49, Hollywood Reported said. All these demographic groups are coveted by advertisers. But it's way too soon for 21st Century Fox to declare victory.  

Getting viewers to check out a new channel is comparatively easy. The hard part will come in six months to a year when sports fans will be able to compare Fox Sports to its rivals. Fox Sports, however, does have a not-so-secret weapon that its rivals lack: Rupert Murdoch.

The billionaire media mogul has shown in the case of The Wall Street Journal and Fox Business Channel that he's willing to wait for a payoff on his investments. In the case of Fox Sports, he might not have to wait as long as some others.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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2Comments
Aug 19, 2013 4:46PM
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I, for one, am anxious to see some competition for ESPN and if FOX Sports will spend more time covering fairly and balanced they'll get my viewing all the time.

I am so sick of E (for eastern)SPN showing New York and Boston teams, scores, results and stories

that I will tune out of ESPN in a heartbeat.

Aug 19, 2013 7:03PM
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i will watch when something other than soccer,mma, and off road racing shows up.
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