Clash of the titans

This requires some bombastic music first:

From Bloomberg:

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (NWSA) is taking steps to start a national U.S. sports network on cable television aimed at challenging Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ESPN, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

News Corp. is assembling the required rights from pay-TV carriers and sports organizations, said the people, who requested anonymity because talks are private. While a final decision to move forward hasn’t been made, the company is considering converting its Fuel action-sports network to the new channel, two of the people said.

With a national network, Fox would join Comcast Corp. (CMCSA)’s NBC Sports Network and CBS Corp. (CBS)’s CBS Sports Network in taking on the dominant ESPN. News Corp. last year secured rights to the Pac-12 Conference and Big-12 Conference games and owns 20 regional sports networks. The company in October won TV rights to soccer’s World Cup in 2018 and 2022. …

Fuel, a 24-hour action-sports network that carries mixed- martial arts fights, is available in 36 million U.S. homes, according to Fox.

In addition to Fox Sports Net regional channels and Fuel, News Corp. owns motor-sport network Speed, available in 78 million homes, the Fox Soccer Channel, the Big Ten Network, a partnership with the college sports conference, and Fox College Sports, consisting of Pacific, Central and Atlantic regional networks. News Corp. also shows games on broadcast television through Fox Sports.

Big Journalism adds:

News Corp’s involvement in the sports entertainment field would be a massive step forward for competition in the marketplace. They already own the rights to broadcast Dodger games in Los Angeles. For too long, ESPN has held a full monopoly – and it has had some political consequences, with ESPN routinely taking the liberal line on everything from ownership/union disputes to touting of President Obama.

That paragraph contains one arguable point. The worst reason for Fox to try to take on ESPN is political. Rupert Murdoch is a right-winger, but he does things to make money, not merely to score political points or exert influence. Moreover, in our overpoliticized world it is nice to find an area where politics can be avoided. I suspect no ESPN viewer watches for the purpose of finding out ESPN’s political take on the sports subject du jour.

It’s not as if there aren’t already a lot of sports choices out there beyond ESPN and Fox. The former CBS College Sports is now the CBS Sports Network. If the National Hockey League still existed, you could watch hockey on NBC Sports, formerly Versus, formerly the Outdoor Life Network. The regional Fox Sports channels are getting competition as well from Comcast (partly owned by NBC Universal) in 11 markets, including Chicago. Each of the major pro team sports has its own cable channel too.

But betting against Murdoch’s ability to take on the ESPN empire would be unwise. In addition to all the Fox Sports iterations, News Corp. started Sky Sports, which became Great Britain’s number one sports channel by purchasing the rights to sports leagues away from the BBC. Fox has rights to the NFL, college football and Major League Baseball, and the Fox Sports affiliates broadcast baseball and college and pro basketball. Fox owns 49 percent of the Big Ten Network too. Finding programming will be the least of Fox’s concerns, on TV or radio, given that Fox Sports Radio already exists. (And if you’re looking for an announcer, Rupert — may I call you Rupert? …)

Fox Sports has been a TV sports innovator, sometimes in good ways (continuous score and time, the first-down line), sometimes not (the glowing hockey puck and assigning Terry Bradshaw and Jimmy Johnson to announce an NFL game with no play-by-play announcer). I always find amusing watching ESPN Classic or the Big Ten Network carry pre-’90s games in which the score is rarely on the screen. CBS, NBC and, yes, ESPN had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era of TV sports thanks to Fox, which correctly figured out that putting the score on the screen didn’t invite people to merely channel-surf.

Another reason to root for Fox comes in a Bloomberg comment:

ESPN is unwatchable these days, as every studio show has some loudmouth pundit like Skip Bayless, Jon Barry, Colin Cowherd, Steven A Smith, etc.  I could go on and on!   I grew up with ESPN in the 80’s/90’s and somewhere in the last 10-15 years that channel seems to be run by a bunch of College Kids who are leaving the frat house after a night of heavy drinking.  They have to hype EVERY story, (Lin-sanity is just one example) and shove it in your face like there is no tomorrow, instead of just reporting the story and having a civil debate on it.  The only reason they can get away with it is they have a monopoly, as the casual sports just goes to ESPN simply because there is no place else to go.  With the advent of NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB Network along with Regional Sports Networks, I left ESPN a long time ago, but those networks still cater to the diehard sports fan.  Hopefully FOX and NBC Sports can be a valid atlternative the same way FOX and MSNBC are to CNN these days.  More competition is always better for the consumer!

The print compliment to this is ESPN The Magazine, which for design reasons is unreadable for those beyond eighth-grade reading skills. ESPN The Magazine sees itself as a competitor to Sports Illustrated (SI’s Swimsuit Issue, meet ESPN’s Body Issue). But ESPN The Magazine will find out what Sport magazine and Inside Sports found out — covering sports on a monthly basis is practically impossible. (Doing a Super Bowl preview a month out is practically impossible, and covering a Super Bowl a month later is old news.)

For a variety of reasons, I hope Fox Sports’ national venture succeeds. I would like to see sports covered as sports, not as sophomoric attitude and less-than-informed opinion, which is what ESPN has become when it ventures outside covering games.

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