Phil Allaway · Wednesday August 14, 2013
You’ve undoubtedly heard about how amped up everyone at FOX Sports is about Saturday’s launch of FOX Sports 1. The press releases (which were put out way too late, by the way) touted FOX Sports 1 launching to 90 million homes and becoming a legitimate threat to ESPN’s complete dominance of sports television.
That just might happen someday. That day will not be Saturday. As I write this, four days before the launch, they will not be in 90 million homes on Saturday. Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass reported on Monday that FOX Sports 1 currently has commitments from a number of cable/telco outlets, most notably Comcast, ATt&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS. However, those commitments only add up to a potential 44 million homes. That is not all that much more than the current number of homes that Fuel is in right now.
Who are the big holdouts? The companies that matter if you have a dish (DirecTV and Dish Network), plus Time Warner Cable (which I have) and Bright House Networks, which in negotiations acts like Time Warner Cable’s little brother or nephew (they piggyback onto whatever Time Warner Cable does).
Those four outlets cover more homes than what FOX Sports 1 already has committed. Knowing that Time Warner Cable (and by extension, Bright House Networks) is still in a middle of a spat with CBS over the Showtime networks, retransmission fees, and a bunch of other stuff, I have no confidence that I’ll be able to watch Saturday’s truck race, or any race on the network anytime soon.
Those of you clamoring for FOX Sports 2 (formerly Fuel) might be in an even worse position. That channel was already only in 37 million homes (including mine, where it is currently right next to SPEED). They might be looking at a Longhorn Network-esque launch Saturday morning. That bites since next week’s UNOH Perfect Storm 150 will be live on there, not to mention Saturday night’s Rolex Series race at Kansas Speedway.
The only good thing about the move is that almost all of the NASCAR programming will survive untouched. It seems like sports car racing will continue in their current capacity as well (live or same day delayed Rolex Series, tape delayed CTSCC races from one week earlier) for the rest of the year, and thanks to a new deal announced last weekend at Road America, the next five more. The other racing properties have left for greener pastures (F1 to NBC Sports Network, NBC and CNBC, AMA Superbikes to CBS Sports Network).
I’m not really concerned about hardcore fans tuning out the network so much as NASCAR on FOX Sports 1 losing audience for two major reasons. One is that many people that could get SPEED won’t be able to get FOX Sports 1 because FOX wants an increase in per-subscriber fees by nearly 348 percent up front (23 cents to 80 cents), plus incremental additional increases in the future. Unfortunately for us, not everyone watches sports on television. People are getting sick of the bloat in bills almost solely because of sports. “The blog All Things Digital”: http://allthingsd.com/20100308/hate-paying-for-cable-heres-the-reason-why/ posted this list of cable per-subscriber fees back in 2010, based on fees in 2009. Almost none of the non-sports cable networks charge even remotely close to what FOX Sports wants for FOX Sports 1. In my case, you can’t switch to anything around here that has a deal with FOX Sports 1. Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Dish Network are the only programming providers available here. Verizon FiOS, which is available in much of the Albany TV market, is not available in my ZIP code.
The other reason is something that would happen regardless of carriage. NASCAR will no longer be the main draw to the network. NASCAR programming will now share space with baseball (starting next year), college sports and soccer. The NASCAR programming (practice sessions, qualifying, Truck Races, and coming in 2015, Sprint Cup and Nationwide races) for the foreseeable future. Most of the action will be covered on FOX Sports 1 live. However, it will not be as heavily promoted as before. The casual fans (and even some of the more hardcore individuals) might be unable to find the action.
As for the hardcore fans, they strike me as the kind of fans who were already tuning out the non-racing programming that was on SPEED (you know, Pinks: All Out, Pass Time, Pimp My Ride reruns, etc.). I don’t think they’ll change their habits all that much (if they can get the channel, of course).
Before I go, I will state this. While I was in the Media Center at Watkins Glen waiting for the Zippo 200 to start, I watched the CTSCC race from Road America on SPEED2.com (which will continue beyond Saturday, and has scheduled live races beyond that date). They were already using the new FOX Sports 2 graphics since that particular race is scheduled to air Saturday afternoon on FOX Sports 2 at 3 PM. If you can get the network(s), you’ll find that their telecasts will not be much different. You’ll just have some different graphics to deal with, along with new fire suits with the FOX Sports logo on them.
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