Fox Sports 1 kicked off over the weekend. Nine years after I pushed for it in my very first effort for TheColumnists.com.
OK, so it's a decade late. But who's counting? Now flabby ESPN has competition. Another network is going round the clock with sports. And you better believe Fox will live up to our name. Just look at Fox News. It's No. 1 on the cable front. I'll bet Fox 1 carries that number right past the Mother Ship, as its old mate Dan Patrick calls it.
Here's what I predicted in January 2004:
If Fox television were related to me, I’d offer brotherly advice: Give ESPN a fight.
Right now, Fox’s sports channels look like twerps against ESPN’s muscle.
It’s an embarrassing mismatch. In the blue corner: Fox Sports Net’s lightweight graphics, jingles and broadcasters. In the red corner: ESPN’s slick logos, tunes and talent.
The Fox picture looks even weaker when its Fox Sports Net2 takes on ESPN2 and ESPN Classic.
It’s a rout. Fox hardly puts up its dukes against ESPN’s barrage.
I’m speaking for America’s fans when I say: Enough. It’s time to rumble.
ESPN is simply too big for its britches. It needs a good, clean clocking to give sports TV a healthier look so we fans can twist the Fox News creed into good use: You Report, We Decide.
We have no decision these days. It’s all ESPN all the time: covering baseball, football, basketball, hockey, tennis, golf, soccer, boxing, bowling, cheerleading, darts, pool, poker. It could squeeze in bridge if it weren’t for motocross.
When it catches its breath, the network features historical athletes and games. And to make sure you know ESPN is everywhere, Chris Berman surfaces at every event from the Super Bowl to the Stanley Cup Finals to golf’s U.S. Open to the World Series.
We watch it all because ESPN does it better than anyone. It obviously spends a mint to make every presentation look and sound professional, Berman’s hideous comb-over notwithstanding.
Take a typical morning in the college football season. ESPN broadcasts Northwestern-Purdue, and ESPN2 has Utah-Air Force. Both football games look and sound like major events.
The options? Fox Sports Net has women’s college volleyball, Fox Sports Net2 some puff piece on Pac-10 women’s basketball. Both have the feel of a high school class project. It’s as if Fox threw in the towel: We can’t do it like ESPN, so let’s not even try.
Enough. Buck up, Fox. Get in shape and give ESPN the battle we fans want.
We want good old American competition, which always makes for better men and products.
McDonald’s has Burger King. Nike has Reebok.
Derek Jeter has Nomar Garciaparra. Donovan McNabb has Rush Limbaugh.
They’re all better because of the heat.
Without a race to be best, you get stagnation. Which is why you stand in line forever at the post office.
If Microsoft really had another firm breathing down on it, you’d see computers turn on as quickly as TVs. If Shaq had to face serious centers every game, he’d get in shape and whip the Lakers toward 70 wins.
It took Fox’s leap into the NFL in 1994 to spark changes in TV coverage. The network’s fresh thinking produced the constant score block in the corner of your screen. Later, TV came up with running scores from around the league and the yellow first-down line.
Remember the old days when you’d ask the guy watching the game what the score was? Without competition, CBS would still be keeping the score to itself until it went to a break.
ESPN looks like it’s doing everything new and improved. But without a lean and mean network across the street, ESPN can only get fat and happy — and easily dismiss changes that would help fans.
ESPN once faced a contender. CNN’s “Sports Tonight” had top talent in Fred Hickman, Nick Charles, Vince Cellini and Jim Huber and gave fans a fun alternative to ESPN’s “SportsCenter” in the ’80s and ’90s. But no longer.
A Fox jab at ESPN would jar the Disney baby into smarter decisions, such as get out of the pompous drama (“Playmakers”) business and replace college football color man Mike Gottfried with a live body.
Fox can do it. Its main network proves it can stand up to anyone in sports. Fox’s NFL pregame show is No. 1 because James Brown’s team is sharp and funny, Jillian Barberie gorgeous and the whole package electric. Fox’s World Series coverage clicked because of edgy graphics, fine camera work and the Joe Buck-Tim McCarver combo. Buck is the brightest announcer this side of Bob Costas. McCarver says something you never thought of every inning.
So what must Fox do to compete with ESPN every day?
Brother, do these and you’re off the ropes:
. Rename the sports channel Fox Too. The current loser, Fox Sports Net, is too cumbersome. What is that Net? Probably Network, but it could be a tennis Net for all we know. Fox Too is short and fun. So the franchise would involve Fox, Fox News Channel and Fox Too.
. Shift Fox News boss Roger Ailes to sports. He’s the George Steinbrenner of TV. A tough winner. Ailes made Fox News Channel exciting to watch. That’s why it miraculously decked CNN. Now have Ailes pull a Roone Arledge, who three decades ago masterminded ABC’s “Monday Night Football” and then turned ABC News into a heavyweight. If Ailes worked in the sports corner, Fox Too would come out swinging.
. Hire Suzy Kolber back from ESPN. And make her the face of Fox Too. She’s the quickest and most screen-friendly broadcaster at ESPN, yet way underused since they hired her away from Fox. That’s what happens when you have a monopoly. Steal her, jack up salaries, and the talent will flow Fox’s way.
. Fix the sets. Not to mention the aforementioned logos, graphics and music. Fox Sports Net’s “National Sports Report” died because it lacked in all those categories. Its follow-up shows look and sound just as sophomoric. This is an area Ailes would fix faster than a Roy Jones uppercut.
Get off the canvas, Fox. Honest TV sports competition — not to mention our name — depends on it.
OK, so Fox Sports 1 hasn't corralled Kolber. Yet. It does feature Erin Andrews, the knockout of Pac Man proportions. The photo above clinches it.
Uh, we can live with that.
Uh, we can live with that.
Good for you, Fox.
Bucky Fox is an author and editor in Southern California.