Fox Sports 1 Plants Its Flag but Has a Long Way to Go

Adding rights is key to growing its audience

As Fox Sports 1 approaches its first six months on air, Fox Sports Media Group evp of marketing Robert Gottlieb has reason to be proud: household penetration is strong, awareness of the network is growing, and, with help from lead creative agency Pereira & O'Dell in New York, the net has become known as a fun, irreverent place to watch live sports. Still, FS1's viewing audience is a fraction of ESPN's, in large part due to the market leader's advantage in sports rights—something that FS1 looks to chip away at as the year unfolds. Gottlieb took a break from editing network promotional ads to discuss plans for the Super Bowl, the allure of the NBA and his biggest mistake thus far.

I hear that Fox Sports 1 will have some ads on Super Bowl Sunday.

We will be in the Super Bowl with several different promos. The shiniest of them is this 30-second image spot for Fox Sports Live, which introduces the cast, has an irreverent take to it and is probably appropriate for a Super Bowl audience.

In what part of the game will it run?

Most likely it will be at halftime, possibly in the pre-game—in the last hour of the pre-game—and possibly in the post-game. We’re still trying to finalize exactly where.

When will the other promos run?

There will be a couple in-game, shorter length ones, like :15s and :10s. Some of them will be Fox Sports Live focused; they’ll be more focused on our post-game coverage of the Super Bowl. So, we’ll give you the nuts and bolts and then the sugary stuff, which is just fun.

How do you divide ad assignments between Pereira & O’Dell and your in-house creative group?

It’s a pretty organic process. Certainly for the more traditional advertising needs—like dialogue spots, comedy spots and larger concept spots—those are things that I’ll reach out to Pereira for because that’s in their wheelhouse.

Fox is certainly a well-known name in sports but how recognizable is the Fox Sports 1 brand at this point?

We feel that we’ve done really well in creating awareness of Fox Sports 1 in our launch window. And certainly the numbers reflected that and our awareness tracking reflected that. That being said, there are miles and miles and miles to go. That’s part of the long-range plan and evolution. How many people are there in America—300 million? Right now, 300 million people don’t know Fox Sports 1 (laughs).

Would you rather be known as another great sports network or a brand that stands for fun and irreverence?

We want to be known as, this is where you go to see great, great sports. Within that, the subtext and the connective tissue around it is, it’s more fun over here. These guys have a lot of fun doing it. They’re huge fans and they celebrate everything we love about sports.

You have significant penetration to 90.1 million homes, which is nearly on par with ESPN and ESPN2, which each reach 97.4 million homes. That’s an advantage that most startup networks don’t have.

Oh yeah, definitely. That was a significant part of our launch and setting us up for success.

That said, your average prime-time audience last year (287,000, according to a Fox Sports representative) and your viewership among 18-to-49-year-olds (140,000) were a fraction of what ESPN had, at 2.14 million and 965,000, respectively. Does that underscore your earlier point that you’ve made some progress but have a long way to go?

Absolutely. At the end of the day, those numbers and the viewership levels are largely dependent on the live event that you have. If you deliver a Monday Night Football broadcast and you get 15 million viewers, obviously that's a huge, huge win. And they have some fantastic rights. We have good rights and we hope to build on that. But we always went in with a very realistic view of what we would expect. We feel like we’re exactly where we thought we would be and we know that it’s a long-term growth plan. They’re fantastic at what they do, they have great rights and they have a 30-year head start on us. So, none of us were under the illusion that six months in we would be approaching their viewership levels.

What sports rights in particular interest you?