Rand: ESPN will soon have challenger in Fox Sports 1

  • Updated: March 6, 2013 - 6:58 AM

Fox Sports 1, which will debut in August and be available in 90 million homes, plans to battle for cable sports viewers with ESPN. College basketball will be one of Fox Sports 1’s first wave of sports.

Photo: SETH WENIG • Associated Press ,

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I am not that old (or so I like to pretend), but I am old enough to remember straining to stay awake each week during “Monday Night Football” long enough to see the halftime highlights.

It was often the first time viewers had a chance to even see with their own eyes what happened in games that weren’t broadcast on Sunday — more than 24 hours later.

Can you imagine? The horror.

This was the early 1980s, about three decades ago. In terms of sports viewing options, it might as well be three centuries ago, a fact hammered home Tuesday when Fox’s long-rumored endeavor into a national cable sports channel to rival ESPN — called Fox Sports 1 — was formally announced.

It will launch in August in a reported 90 million homes. NASCAR, college football, college basketball, ultimate fighting and soccer will provide its initial base of programming, with baseball added in 2014. The NBA and NFL could be in play in future years. In other words, the channel means business.

In this era of DVRing and watching later — skipping commercials — sports have become a precious commodity: programming often actually viewed live, in the moment.

And this Fox channel will add to the already mind-boggling landscape of what is available to sports viewers: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, Big Ten Network, CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network and countless regional networks like Fox Sports North. There are more. So many more. And that doesn’t even include special packages that allow viewers to watch every single game in a given sport.

No one cable channel, however, seems to have the same clout as Fox Sports 1 potentially has when it comes to challenging the ESPN behemoth.

“We like our position,” ESPN Senior Vice President Chris LaPlaca was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times. “We have always had vigorous competition, so there is really nothing substantially new here.”

Maybe so, but more options tend to change our habits. After all, it’s been a long time since I even thought about halftime highlights.

michael RAND

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