Fox Sports Is Banking on Skip Bayless to Be Its ‘Undisputed’ Champ

Puts capital behind confident, opinionated commentator

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Skip Bayless is considered one of the most articulate, fearless and polarizing figures on sports television today. The sports columnist turned on-air personality gained fame from a partnership with another outspoken figure, Stephen A. Smith, on ESPN2's weekday morning debate program First Take. Bayless, 64, left ESPN to take his contrarian viewpoints, including a propensity to bash three-time NBA champion LeBron James and an undying love for ex-NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, to Fox Sports and a new show for FS1 called Skip and Shannon: Undisputed.

The program's format mirrors that of First Take, but Bayless gets a new sparring partner in NFL Hall-of-Famer and former CBS Sports analyst Shannon Sharpe and a new moderator in FS1 host Joy Taylor. The program will air live on weekday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET.

Fox Sports considers the addition of Bayless a coup for the company and believes the news merits a significant multiplatform marketing campaign.

Marketing elements for Bayless' arrival include a multimillion-dollar, off-channel media plan including billboards, TV and digital; a digital video stunt in which Bayless and Sharpe debate sports with customers at an L.A. barber shop; a Times Square billboard takeover, which will be up during the series premiere on Tuesday; a social media promotion where fans can tweet at Fox Sports for a chance to win a daily breakfast delivered by GrubHub vendors in local markets; and a 12-foot Skip Bayless bobblehead, which will travel to FS1 college football games across the country this fall.

The promotion kicked off Friday at the Kansas State-Stanford game in Palo Alto, Calif. The bobblehead travels to the News Corp. building in New York later this week, and then Norman, Okla., for Ohio State-Oklahoma on Sept. 17.

Fox Sports will also promote Bayless across its multiple properties. The NFL, college football and the MLB postseason all air on Fox Sports this fall.

Why is Fox Sports expending so much energy to announce the arrival of one man?

"If you want to use a sports analogy, Kevin Durant signing with Golden State is massive news," Robert Gottlieb, evp and head of marketing for Fox Sports, told Adweek. "In the sports media world, we believe Skip Bayless signing with Fox Sports is equally huge news. A heavy media and marketing campaign to make this announcement is necessary. Skip is going to be an important part of who we are. We're putting a lot of production resources, intellectual and brand capital behind him, so it makes sense from a marketing perspective to try and leverage that as best as we can. We want the sports world to know that Skip is going to be part of Fox."

FS1 has garnered its strongest ratings from event programming, while many of its in-studio and original shows have under performed. Why will Undisputed be different?

"This show is for the serious sports fan, whereas some of our previous shows have been sort of breezy," Gottlieb said. "Skip engaging with somebody else who is equally as strong on the things that sports fans want to hear about and want to talk about is a good format for us."

FS1 premiered a live debate program in June called Speak For Yourself. The hour-long program airs weekdays at 6 p.m. and stars two informed and opinionated personalities, Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock. Like Bayless, both men did stints at ESPN, and Cowherd's departure was also significant in the sports media world. Needless to say, Bayless will add more fire to an already opinionated FS1 talent roster. 

"When you have really unique, strong on-air personalities who are charismatic and authentic, people respond to that," said Gottlieb. "You see that across the TV spectrum—people like Bill O'Reilly, Bill Maher and Jon Stewart. When you have superstars who are interesting, and you give them a forum to be themselves and to voice their opinions unrestrained, it makes for good TV. We now have that with Skip."

Skip and Shannon: Undisputed premieres Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 9:30 a.m. ET on FS1.

@ajkatztv A.J. Katz is the senior editor of Adweek's TVNewser.