Crazy Like A FOX

The Fox Sports tag team of President Ed Goren and Chairman David Hill has spent the last nine years changing the way we watch sports television. They’ve gone from leading an upstart sports network in 1994 to becoming two of the most influential people in sports television.

During their tenure, Fox has garnered the rights to Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NHL, and NASCAR. In each case, they have radically altered the way sports is delivered into our living rooms. They haven’t been afraid to take chances and have put the Fox marketing muscle behind all of their sports properties.

Goren and other TV executives have also been one of the driving forces behind some of the proposed changes in the Winston Cup schedule for 2004. They claim that later start times and races in bigger markets make for better TV and better ratings.

So how does Goren feel about the NASCAR/Fox partnership and where are things heading for NASCAR on TV?

“What a difference a few years makes,” says Goren. “A few years ago when we came in here there were petitions from people saying, ‘What is Fox doing with NASCAR?’ and ‘Guys, we’re happy with what we have.’ That was a challenge and we overcame that challenge. Now we come back two years later and it’s ‘Welcome back’ and “We wish you’d be here all year.’”

Clearly, Fox has won over fans with its coverage. But what is the key to that success?

“I think it’s an attitude that we bring to the broadcast,” says Goren. “I think everything we ever done from Day One at Fox Sports has been a nice combination of information and quality coverage along with entertainment.”

Goren is consistent in his belief that Fox needs to tell viewers more about the drivers, that’s it’s a key part of growing the sport.

“We were talking about the fact that last year we had this umbrella term: ‘young guns.’ I said, ‘Guys, that’s not good enough. We have to put faces and personalities to them. Forget about young guns. Tell me about them.’ I think you see that in the broadcasts and even graphically.”

Despite the rating success of NASCAR, it has been a major economic challenge for any of the networks to make money after the monster TV package was signed in late 1999. This isn’t just true of the NASCAR rights; it’s also true of most major sports TV contracts currently in place.

“I’ve always said that the sports rights fee business is like the stock market,” he says. “When it’s hot, at some point there may have to be a correction. I think we’re seeing that with the NBA going from network television, with four networks saying, ‘We can’t afford you.’ So they ended up on cable. I think as other contracts come up, broadcasters cannot put themselves in a position of losing tens of millions of dollars a year for product. We love the product. We love what it does for us. But at what price?”

So, are the days of the big exclusive over-the-air network deals gone? Is it essential for other revenue streams from cable subscriber rights and ancillary deals to be an important part of the equation?

“Let’s put it this way,” says Goren. “It’s a lot easier when you have the dual revenue stream. If you look at the landscape right now, NBC has basically shut down. They have a limited number of rights fees deals. ABC Sports has become an arm of ESPN. The only real active organizations right now are CBS and Fox. We’re somewhat limited in that we have three main products. In the future, I don’t think the networks are going to bid on product and put enough on the table if they know that number is going to lose money.”

Despite this economic challenge, Goren is thrilled with the NASCAR ratings. Can they continue to grow?

“Yeah,” he says matter of factly. “I do believe that viewership will grow this year. We certainly got off to a nice start with the Budweiser (Shootout). I do think there’s room for growth. I think there’s an excitement. We were going around Daytona in restaurants and we saw some ‘veteran’ NASCAR fans. I was surprised how excited they were about a lot of these younger drivers and how they’ve accepted them . . . I do think there’s room for growth.”

The networks believe that part of this growth will come from later race starting times. Goren states, “The network came to us and asked if we could put the Budweiser race in prime time. In sweeps! We went up against upgraded competition; we won the night easily. I would not be surprised if the network came back to us and said, ‘Alright, next year, can you add some race into prime time, especially into June, when you get into reruns? What the networks have found is that reruns don’t cut it as far as ratings . . . Knowing how the business works, I would not be surprised if there was a suggestion that we add a race or two into prime time . . . It’s a complement to the sport, the people who love the sport, and the fans of the sport. Imagine talking about prime time in NASCAR when three years ago we were talking about cable. That’s rather impressive.”

Could more races be added in prime time on a night other than Saturday? “It depends on what NASCAR is willing to do,” says Goren. “Right now, in June, you couldn’t run Pocono at night because there are no lights there. Whether it’s Saturday night or Sunday night or even late afternoon Sundays . . . it could go any number of ways. I don’t think it’s just what we want. It’s a partnership, and at some point we’ll be hearing requests and sit down with NASCAR and see if we can work them out.”

THIS WEEK’S NOTES: The Daytona 500 finished with a final rating of 5.8 and a 21 share. That 5.8 represents 10.7 million households, with almost 30 million viewers during the course of the broadcast . . . The overnight numbers from Rockingham were up an impressive 11 percent, drawing a 6.3 rating and 13 share. The final number will probably be even higher once the smaller markets are tabulated . . . SPEED Channel is now up to 56.6 million homes . . . FX is projected to be at 80 million homes by the end of the year . . . Kurt Busch will appear on Friday’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period” on Fox Sports Net.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2003

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