You probably complain about ESPN and SportsCenter, and you probably still watch them. We do the same, because flawed SportsCenter is better than no SportsCenter, and if you’re reading this site, you aren’t going to start your mornings with CNN or Nickelodeon or such trivial nonsense like “the news.” Rather than hear about an upcoming Senate race or bill or taxes, we choose to view LeBron James’ tweets and polls of dumb people and whatever it is ESPN chooses to subject us to on that particular day. Seriously, though, we rarely change the channel.
Fox Sports is trying to change that, by becoming an actual competitor to ESPN, the Kevin Durant to ESPN’s LeBron, rather than the Dwight Howard-led Lakers that other channels have previously spawned. The impulse is to write off Fox, but they’re hiring people that people like to watch, which means people might actually watch Fox Sports Live on Fox’s new channel, Fox Sports 1. FS1 debuts on August 17.
Late last week, news broke across Canada that the popular TSN SportsCentre duo of Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole were leaving their network next month for Fox Sports 1. So popular are the pair north of the border — the Wall Street Journal said their status is “akin to SportsCenter stars Keith Olbermann and Craig Kilborn in the U.S. in the 1990s” — that Canada PM Stephen Harper tweeted out a photo of the broadcasters with the message that he would miss them.
Onrait and O’Toole will be major part of a three-hour Fox Sports Live program that will air nightly between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. ET. The show is FS1’s challenge to SportsCenter, and at this point, Fox Sports executives will only say viewers should think of the program as multiple shows inside a three-hour bloc. Fox Sports Live, which will eventually expand to a morning edition as well, is expected to have more than a dozen regulars, including anchors, update people and a rotating cast of former athletes/analysts.
Though it won’t be formally announced for another month due to contractual obligations, ESPN’s Charissa Thompson has already told her Bristol employers that she is leaving for Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports Live. (Credit The Big Lead website for calling Thompson going to Fox Sports.) She will be featured in the same late-night (Eastern time) bloc as Onrait and O’Toole. Who else? Fox is trying to fit Andy Roddick, the retired U.S. tennis star, into a position on the same program. (That role is still being determined, and Shanks would not comment specifically on Roddick, who currently appears on a Fox Sports Radio show.) Shanks said 125 people have tried out over the last month for multiple roles on Fox Sports Live. Test shows for Fox Sports Live will start this summer as early as June. Fox Sports 1 will officially launch on Aug. 17
O’Toole has over 184,000 twitter followers. Onrait is over 236,000. Their popularity won’t immediately carry over to the US, but their ability to gain such a following in Canada bodes well for Fox Sports 1.
Of course, talent isn’t SportsCenter’s problem. They have skilled, likable anchors, for the most part. It’s the nonsensical production decisions that bother people. So, if Fox Sports Live does that well, in addition to stockpiling talent, the landscape could shift, quickly. And this will force ESPN to get better, so all should be happy. This should be fun to watch, and beginning in August, when ESPN makes your head hurt, you may indeed have a superior option.
We are excited, though ESPN may not be.