Sports Entertainment Summit: Freer Offers Inside Look at FS1

Just hours after the announcement that Fox had finally reached major carriage deals for its soon-to-launch Fox Sports 1 and 2 cable networks, Randy Freer took the stage at the SVG/Variety Sports Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles Thursday morning to address the attendees at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel.

During his keynote discussion, the Fox Sports COO/co-president touched on everything from FS1’s programming and production plans to the skyrocketing cost of live-sports media rights and why these properties have become so valuable to both broadcasters and MVPDs.

“You need a reason for consumers to pick up their phones and order your service. That’s why [live sports content] is not overvalued; it’s undervalued,” he said. “Sports today is the only thing that drives value in so many equations. If people are ever going to do anything to switch [service providers], sports is still the one thing that will make someone change their provider.”

Fox Sports 1 Enters Starting Gate
Though accompanied by plenty of nail biting — completed just 48 hours prior to FS1’s official launch — carriage deals with Time Warner Cable, DIRECTV, and Dish Network solidify the new network as an immediate factor in the cable sports market.

Variety's Sports Entertainment Summit In Association With SVG“It was never in doubt,” Freer said with a smirk, referring to the FS1/FS2 carriage deals. “The distribution conversations are always interesting. But we have worked with our distribution partners over the years on any number of things, and we worked with them on this over the past couple of months and came to an agreement.”

With that agreement, FS1 and FS2 will launch in 90 million homes on Saturday. Freer promised that, despite some eclectic talent hires for the new network (Regis Philbin, former TSN SportsCentre hosts Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, and former-athlete/broadcasting-novices Andy Roddick, Gary Payton, and Donovan McNabb), FS1 aims to become a legitimate news operation with much more to offer than a humorous alternative to ESPN.

“There have been some comments about us being lighter and just funny comedians,” he said. “But that is not who we are and not what we plan on doing. We will be an alternative to what is out there today for the hardcore sports fans and hopefully others. And we will have a very robust news organization that will deliver the stories of the day, the week, and sports in general.”

(For an in-depth look on the launch of Fox Sports 1, CLICK HERE to read SVG’s Special Report.)

Years in the Making
Although the official FS1 announcement didn’t arrive until last March, Fox’s plans for a cable sports network were years in the making. In 2009, Freer said, Fox began building out a new cable sports roadmap — either by transforming FX into a hybrid sports-and-entertainment network or by launching a new standalone 24-hour all-sports network. With Fox’s acquisition of a batch of new live-sports rights in recent years and FX’s having built itself into a cable heavyweight on its own accord, Fox opted for the latter.

“As each set of rights were acquired, we could move further one way or the other,” recounted Freer. “And it really wasn’t until eight or nine months ago that we believed we had acquired enough product to go full-bore into this general sports channel rather than the hybrid sports channel. And the other side is that FX has been so successful with their product that inserting week-night sports would have been more disruptive than additive.”

‘À La Carte Doesn’t Work’
Freer also echoed the sentiments of News Corp. COO Chase Carey regarding the potential of à la carte cable programming during the session.

“À la carte is a fantasy. It doesn’t work,” he said. “No one would end up paying less. [For] ESPN, in order to even stay in business, you are looking at $20-$30 [per à la carte subscription], and RSNs are in the same place. If you look at the amount of money that is spent on original entertainment programming channels would be $20-$25 across the board. À la carte is just a complete fantasy, and it’s not good for anybody.

“The theory that the TV bundle has become too complicated is just not accurate,” he continued. “From the standpoint of à la carte, it doesn’t work. It is simply not a viable alternative for the consumer, the distributor, the programmer, or anyone.”

Second Launch: Super Bowl Week
While the maturation of FS1 will take up a large chunk of the company’s attention over the next six months, Fox Sports is also building out its plans for Super Bowl XLVIII in February at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Fox intends to treat Super Bowl week as a “second launch” of sorts, rolling out a monster presence in the New York area to support the FS1 programming slate, including a full week of shows from a custom-built Times Square studio, basketball tournaments at Madison Square Garden, a Gold Boy Championship fight at the Barclays Center, a UFC fight at the Izod Center, and much more.

“It’s a big, big week for us that culminates with the Super Bowl. Virtually every show will come out of New York. What is interesting is that shows usually go to [the host city] to talk about the Super Bowl, but this is really the first time that someone has brought events and shows to the Super Bowl to talk about ourselves and promote Fox Sports 1. So we’re very excited about it.”

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