You’re not alone if you’ve been searching your TV guide looking for the baseball playoffs and becoming confused. The championship series for both the American League and National League are being played out far down your channel list on FS1.
FS1, short for Fox Sports 1, is Fox’s answer to ESPN and airing the championship series on it is Fox’s attempt to get more eyeballs on a channel that so far has been largely ignored by viewers.
I have news for you frustrated sports fans. You’re going to see more of this and Fox is right to do it.
FS1 taking advantage of ESPN’s weakening brand.
FS1, launched about three years ago, has mostly been known for lower-level college sports and some mixed martial arts. But recent moves, including signing some ex-ESPN staffers such as Skip Bayless, demonstrate that Fox is serious about making FS1 a true contender to ESPN. Right now, ESPN still dominates in the ratings but Fox is betting that viewers catching playoff baseball on its sports channel will funnel their viewing habits to the Fox channel. Promos for FS1 programming litter the baseball broadcasts to combat its single biggest problem: Lack of awareness.
We’re at this point because networks saw an opening with the slow defraying of the ESPN brand. The sports network, which began with humble beginnings in the late 70s, dominated the sports conversation so much over the last 20 years that many sports, especially college football and basketball, adjust their schedules to ESPN’s whim.
What ESPN should be doing.
But ESPN, while still leading in the ratings, has seen viewership drop for its flagship show, SportsCenter, and a weaker loyalty to its brand. It has suffered a talent drain (Bayless to FS1, Dan Patrick to NBC, Bill Simmons to HBO and his own media site, The Ringer) and fewer contracts with sports leagues. (Fox, for example, will air the college football playoffs in January.)
Few of us understand what ESPN stands for anymore. It once stood for being immersed in the world of sports. Without the monopoly on league contracts, however, it can’t hold that spot. Even the sports leagues themselves now have their own networks. (The MLB Network aired some of the earlier baseball playoff rounds.)
FS1 isn’t the only network punching a hole into ESPN’s balloon. NBCSports and CBS Sports Network are also on air. ABC, the owner of ESPN, has responded by cutting costs at ESPN.
Downsizing is almost always the signifier that a brand is losing ground. Instead, ESPN should be searching for what brand meaning would regain its preference.
The damage is done. So when you lament the baseball playoffs being on channel 400 (FS1 here in Greensboro), you’d better wise up and greet in the new era. It’s here to stay.