Fox Sports 1 Looks to Dodge Sophomore Slump

Fox Sports 1 in 2015 is hoping to build on a freshman campaign that saw the former Speed Channel post a 71% increase in viewership, compared to Speed a year prior. A highlight of 2014 was October coverage of Major League Baseball’s playoffs, which drew more than 18.7 million new viewers to the network. Fox Sports 1 general manager and chief operating officer David Nathanson spoke with programming editor R. Thomas Umstead and news editor Mike Reynolds about year one and plans to keep ratings momentum going with a strong programming slate in 2015, including FIFA Women’s World Cup coverage this summer.

MCN: Looking back during Fox Sports 1’s first year, did you accomplish everything that you wanted to accomplish?

David Nathanson: I don’t think you ever accomplish everything you want to accomplish. We certainly aren’t going to rest on our laurels and our past successes and, frankly, we learned a lot more from some of our failures than we did from some of our successes. I think in the first year we adjusted our programming mix dramatically. We launched with a slate of shows, and we’re constantly re-evaluating where we are, if we’re speaking to the right audience, whether we’re positioning ourselves and the network to grow in the sports marketplace, if we are servicing the fans the way we want to service the fans. I think some of the adjustments we made along the way are a reflection of that.

MCN: What are expectations for Fox Sports 1 in 2015?

DN: In year two, we have an opportunity to really expand the audience and evolve our programming. What I’m most looking forward to is a combination of showcasing our incredible premiere events on Fox Sports 1, many of which, like golf, are new to the Fox Sports brand. It’s also an opportunity to expand how we relate to sports fans in shows like Fox Sports Live. So that’s an exciting opportunity for us.

MCN: Sports networks take a lot of hits from the media and from consumers because of the high cost of their content. Talk about your perception of sports and how valuable it is to the overall cable business.

DN: We’ve all been part of the cable business a long time, and sports has always been an integral part of the cable business. You can go back to the early boxing days on HBO when fights like the “Thrilla in Manila” [the 1975 Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight title fight in the Philippines] helped catapult HBO back in those days. You can see how sports impacted Fox in terms of acquiring [broadcast- TV] NFL rights in 1994 … that established the Fox Sports brand. So launching Fox Sports 1 is no different, and I think the fact that sports news is relevant, timely, must-see content provides tremendous benefits to the whole cable ecosystem.

MCN: Is there anything in the marketplace coming up that you guys are very interested in potentially acquiring?

DN: I think we’re always looking at everything in the marketplace. It’s no surprise that there are things out there in the college space, in the professional sports space, in the international sports space, all of which we look at and evaluate. Ultimately, it has to be a decision that fits within our portfolio. It has to be a smart economic decision for us, and a smart strategic decision in terms of where we want to grow our audience and our brand.

MCN: Do you have enough room to get back into England’s Premier League soccer?

DN: It’s less of a capacity issue — we have Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, so certainly we have enough outlets to help satisfy the need for those sports fans. Ultimately, it’s a question of is it the right decision for us and at what price? The Premier League is, on a global scale, the mostrecognized soccer league in the world. We’re building ourselves as the home of soccer and we have the rights to prove it, from FIFA to [Major League Soccer] to CONCACAF to the [English soccer] FA Cup, etc. So ultimately, the Premier League has been an important part of our past and it could be an important part of our future. So will our coverage of the Women’s World Cup. Our coverage is going to be unprecedented to any coverage of that event in the history of that event. We’ll have 16 games on broadcast television and 30 on Fox Sports 1.

MCN: What role do ring sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts play in the development of Fox Sports 1?

DN: UFC is one of the columns that Fox Sports 1 was built upon. I think they are some of our strongest partners. The UFC and MMA helped build the foundation by which Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 were launched. And they remain one of the most important sports categories for us. We’re seeing record numbers with both TV series and the Fox Sports 1 events, not to mention the events that air on the broadcast network. And we believe there’s huge growth still. Some of the biggest stars are evolving and about to come up the ranks in the UFC. So for us, this is the most exciting time for the UFC and ultimately I think it’s going to see tremendous growth in the coming years.

MCN: How far along is the Fox Sports Go app, in terms of the TV universe?

DN: We’d like to see Fox Sports Go continue to add new affiliates, and it is. I think you’ll find in the coming months that new affiliates will be added to the equation to broaden the availability of Fox Sports Go. For us, it’s an essential part of the experience, you want to be able to watch Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, wherever it’s most convenient to you. To do that in conjunction with our distributors is almost an expected thing that the consumers hope to get today from their sports network. So for us, as widely as we can make that available and as fast as we can make that available to the consumer, that’s our objective. We’re certainly on the road to doing that.

MCN: How do you view the competition?

DN: We have a tremendous amount of respect for all the sports networks out there. As I mentioned, this is arguably the most competitive time ever in the sports landscape. And you can see that just by how competitive rights are for the top exclusive rights. Each of the other sports networks in the television landscape — as well as some of the sports outlets in the digital landscape — all present unique rights, unique perspectives, unique options. So we view them very respectfully, and we’re aware of what it takes to be competitive in the landscape. At the same time we’re very confident in the portfolio of rights we have, in the talent that we’ve amassed to support those rights, and our future strategic plans to grow those rights. Ultimately, we’re extremely optimistic in our position in the landscape.