Trolling for bowl content, Fox exec invades bowl convention

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- Remember when Fox was the quirky network when it debuted Married With Children, The Simpsons and In Living Color? Rupert Murdoch's network didn't get to where it is in the TV universe by being shy. There was one of those moments on Thursday morning at the Football Bowl Association Annual Meetings.

With an FBA discussion on social media about to begin at the Hilton Universal City, Fox Sports COO Larry Jones essentially pleaded with gathered bowl executives to put their games on new Fox Sports 1. The new 24-hour sports channel will debut in August as a (perhaps, some day) challenger to ESPN.

It needs content, bad. You get the connection to Thursday's Hollywood power play played out in public.

“The real reason I'm here is to say we want to be in the bowl business,” Jones said to a group of about 50 people.

“I just wanted to let you all know that when your rights come up, it's something we're extremely interested in talking to you about,” he added. “I'm not looking to interfere with any … rights that ESPN has. But I do know they have virtually every bowl there is, and I don't think that's great for college sports and I don't think that's great for the college bowl community. We want to isolate some bowls, make them special as we've done in the past. That's my sole message.”

Call it a bit of guerilla marketing. ESPN/ABC televises 33 of the 35 bowls. (The Sun Bowl is on CBS, the Cotton Bowl on Fox.) Fox Sports 1, per Jones, will launch in 90 million homes making it “the biggest launch in sports history.” Again, that is per Jones.

For four seasons (from 2006-09), Fox had three of the four BCS bowls on its air. (The Rose had a separate contract with ABC.) The network has rights fees relationships with the Pac-12 and Big 12. Fox is partners with the Big Ten on the Big Ten Network.

Next step for FS1, Rose Bowl? Let's not get crazy here. All the BCS bowl deals expire after this season. ESPN has the rights to the six-bowl playoff (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Chick-fil-A, Cotton) for 12 years beginning in 2014. The deals on other non-CFPO bowls expire at various times in the next few years. Those are Jones' target audience.

If you know anything about start-up networks, content is key. In the college world, only the Big Ten Network has been successful. In the sports cable world, ESPN continues to dominate. Fox Sports 1 will replace the Speed network on your cable tier and at least attempt to compete with ESPN with properties such as UEFA Champions League and Major League Baseball.

But that alone won't fill up 24 hours, so why not hit the FBA circuit? It was a target-rich environment for a TV exec.

Jones completed his pitch by giving his email to the assembled bowl execs and saying, “If you're ever interested, we'll come out and show you what Fox Sports 1 is. We're going to make a real difference in the sports community and the college community. We think there is a great opportunity for some of your bowls to go on Fox Sports 1 … We are extremely committed to college sports.”

Savvy, quirky, Fox.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
 
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