Fox Sports Rushes the Web

Fox Sports chairman David Hill believes the Internet is following the same evolutionary pattern as television. “When TV was in its infancy, it was basically run by the engineers,” says Hill. “Technology innovations were driving it, until finally the programmers began to take over. And that’s when television took off.”

Hill believes that for the past 10 years or so online media—particularly sports sites—have been overly controlled by techies, or engineers, as he calls them. And because the programming executives have for the most part gone along with this, just about every sports Web site looks the same or offers the same basic content and design.

“All of these sites, including our own, are dominated by highlights of games from the night before and interviews of players talking about games that already happened,” Hill says. “Everything is past tense.” And most of the sports sites feature a preponderance of sportswriters, rather than television sports commentators, he adds.

While these sites do have some prognosticators who, via video, are discussing future games or longer-term trends, Hill believes there should be more cross-pollination of TV sports commentators on FoxSports.com. He also wants to inject a little more irreverence into the commentary to offer viewers a distinct destination.

In April, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch authorized moving FoxSports.com from under the Fox Interactive Media umbrella to Fox Broadcasting Group, and gave Hill oversight of the overhaul of its look and functionality. (The move predates last week’s news of cutbacks at FIM and its subsidiaries.)

Hill is now putting together a plan to evolve it to reach more users and offer greatly expanded original programming. And he plans to immediately target men at work, who, research indicates, are viewing sports sites heavily during the workday. According to Media Metrix, 76 percent of users visiting sports sites do so during work hours. Fox’s own internal audience measurement data appears to confirm that 50 percent of FoxSports.com’s audience visits during lunch breaks.

Hill may not be a tech guru, but since taking charge of Fox Sports 15 years ago, he has made numerous changes to the network’s on-air sports telecasts. He introduced the Fox Box on NFL telecasts, the onscreen constant score and clock graphic with real-time stats fed into it directly from the stadium scoreboards. He instituted surround sound audio and an audio mixer that can open and close field mikes wherever the play is. And for baseball telecasts, he introduced the diamond and catcher cams.

While the revamp of the site and its content production will primarily be done in-house, Fox is expected to invest several million dollars in the project, according to sources familiar with the initiative. No one at Fox would comment on that number.


But the changes do have Murdoch’s blessing. and Hill, a fellow Aussie who Murdoch brought in to run Fox Sports when it was created in 1994, has broad license on the tweaks he believes will draw more users.

“We’ve made several strategic changes in our digital businesses recently, one of which was to return responsibility of FoxSports.com to the network it represents,” Murdoch says. “David has consistently demonstrated his creativity and innovation through his career at News Corp. I’m confident that his determination and resourcefulness will give FoxSports.com a fresh, dynamic look.”

FoxSports.com is already one of the top online sports destinations, according to Nielsen Online, averaging about 13 million unique users a month, second only to ESPN.com (which averages 20 million unique monthly users) among TV network-affiliated sports sites.

“FoxSports.com is not broken,” Hill points out. “We are in a good place right now. But we need to bring more innovation to the site. Right now, most content on sports sites is past tense. We want to make it more forward thinking.”