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ESPN v. Fox Sports 1

(The Verge) – It has been almost a month since Fox Sports 1 launched. This network is attempting to do what none other has to this point–challenge ESPN’s 24/7 sports coverage. Since 1979, ESPN has been the only network dedicated to sports around the clock, every day of the year. Under majority ownership  from The Walt Disney Company, ESPN has faced essentially no competition from other networks. ESPN was the first network of its kind. It was believed to fail by many when it launched over 30 years ago, but has become immensely popular. However, over the past few years, and thanks to the growth of social media, ESPN has faced more criticism than in years past. Originally, it was a network committed to highlights, recaps, and brief insights from anchors and analysts. Now, viewers are tired of seeing the same stories and athletes given extensive news coverage for seemingly no reason. For example, when Tim Tebow took his shirt off at practice, headlines were created. Well, who cares? That stuff belongs in TMZ not the sports world. Furthermore, whenever LeBron James has lunch, ESPN seems to be all over it. But for what reason? Yes, he is one of the most iconic athletes on earth, but that kind of coverage is simply excessive.
Watch an episode of SportsCenter, ESPN’s premiere highlight show, from 10 years ago. It’s likely to be filled with highlights galore, and minor input from analysts. Now tune in to the same show from today. Highlights are decreased, except for major events such as the Superbowl, World Series, network aired games such as Monday Night Football, and others. Additionally, the number of analysts has been drastically increased over the past 10 years. It seems that many recently retired star athletes/coaches pursue media careers. For example, Raven’s legendary linebacker Ray Lewis just recently retired, and already landed a gig with ESPN.

Image taken from: theguardian.com.

What made the network great was the extensive coverage of all sports. Highlights from each sport were common, so catching up on last night’s games were always quick and easy. The amount of coverage dedicated to specific teams and individual athletes now has trumped the old formula. The Miami Heat’s offseason is viewed as more important than a 5-4 NHL shootout. Growing up, the numerous highlights were what made me love the network.  Now, it has become increasingly difficult to watch with unwanted coverage of Tim Tebow’s latest haircut. As you would imagine, ESPN has no plans on backing down from this challenge, as ESPN VP Mike Soltys claims, “We’re very confident in our position and try to put the focus on making ourselves better and competition will do that for you. Fox, with the level of success that they’ve had in other ways over the years, is certainly a formidable competitor, but competition has always made us better so we anticipate that this will be the same situation.”
So where does Fox Sports 1 come into this equation? They are the game-changers. Upon viewing Fox Sports Live, their equivalent to SportsCenter, there was a clear difference between the two. FS1 used more highlights and more sports than ESPN did. They also used less analysts than ESPN. The dedication to highlights is swaying my interest to their network. Also, they cover soccer significantly more than ESPN. The growing popularity of the MLS and the increase in popularity in the Barclay’s Premier League produces more soccer highlights on FS1. Now, one would think ESPN would show more soccer highlights considering they bought rights to air BPL and Spanish La Liga games on their family of networks. However, that is a rarity for SportsCenter to do so. But, to ESPN’s credit they did create a segment called ESPNFC, a show dedicated to domestic and international soccer news and highlights. This came as a direct response to Fox Sports 1 soccer coverage. The only issue with this show? It airs at midnight, which will mean less views, at least from an American audience. FS1 is doing their best to change the dynamics of sporting news.
Image taken from: sportspickle.com.

FS1 is also fresh. It’s something new, something viewers can at least give a chance. Comparatively, ESPN is a known commodity. You know what you’re getting. For example, upon viewing an episode of Fox Sports Live last week, one anchor said something along the lines of “Justin Morneau is Canadian, so he has maple syrup in his veins.” After Morneau was hit by a pitch this was humorous and added to the freshness of the show. Continuing in the same highlights, Morneau tried scoring from first base, and upon his trip home, the anchor said Morneau’s top speed was about negative seven. He was thrown out at home plate. This comedic approach is totally different from ESPN’s. It might not be for everyone, but if one thing is certain, it’s different. It’s a refreshing approach on a formula that has remained relatively similar for several years.
Fox Sports 1 might not be the more popular network right now. It isn’t nearly as financially profitable as ESPN. However, it’s not even a month old, and already on the rise. “When you have established brands it does take a long time to infiltrate that,” says Robert Thompson, Director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture. “Pepsi knows that about Coca-Cola. Subway knows that about McDonalds. ESPN has become the generic term for sports programming. They dominate the market. It is number one. But that was true of CNN and 24-hour cable news, and Fox changed that. It is harder to do in sports than 24-hour news, but it all depends on who you got.”