Fox May Launch a Rival to ESPN, But Not This Year (Updated)

Fox has explored a national sports network, but insiders say reports of it launching this year are inaccurate

Updated 3:15 p.m. PT

News Corp.'s Fox is planning a national sports network to rival ESPN, according to a Bloomberg report on Wednesday, but two different individuals with knowledge of the situation said, in so many words, "hold your horses."

One individual acknowledged that it had been discussed, but said that nothing was imminent. He also said there are factual inaccuracies in the Bloomberg story, such as the claim that it could launch before the end of this year. 

Marc Ganis, the president of consulting firm SportsCorp Limited, added that while the idea has been batted around, he was unaware that Fox had actually moved on it.

“It’s been a possibility that has been out there for a little while,” Ganis told TheWrap. “Whether they actually decided to pull the trigger…”

Ganis added that a cable sports network has been analyzed and “viewed as a possibility” at Fox, but would not go into further detail.

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Fox already has the Fox Sports division of the Fox Broadcasting network and a suite of regional sports networks that have deals with major franchises, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and Clippers.

"Fox is working to continually diversify and parlay that into a larger chunk of the audience," Dan Durbin, director of USC's Annenberg Institute for Sports, Media and Society, told TheWrap. "The bottom line for [Fox Sports CEO David Hill] is that he wants to have the biggest [sports network] in the world, and of course [News Corp. CEO] Rupert Murdoch wants to have the biggest of anything in the world."

But Fox, like other major broadcast networks, has long left cable dominance to ESPN. They each air major sporting events, but none has had the same kind of round-the-clock presence on cable as ABC's corporate sibling. 

NBC and CBS have entered the space in the past year, taking channels they owned and rebranding them as national sports networks — the NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network.

Thus far, neither has made a huge impact.

Fox likely sees a similar opportunity to cash in on the huge appetite for televised sports, which has in turn driven the market for sports rights. Prices for rights continue to skyrocket with the NFL alone commanding billions.

And Fox Sports, under Hill, has a strong track record.

"The new goal would be to challenge ESPN, to have their own full conglomerate network," Durbin said. "It would be significantly larger than NBC or CBS."

Durbin said that while ESPN has the advantage of longevity, Fox has the advantage of targeting a different audience. ESPN goes after the sports fanatic while Fox pursues the average consumer. 

Though Fox may not launch a network any time soon, signs point towards one in the future. Fox has the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. That would not be considered "imminent."