ESPN President John Skipper Isn’t Scared Of Fox Sports 1… Should He Be?

  • Matt Rudnitsky

Richard Deitsch’s weekly media column is up, and you should read the whole thing (as you should every week), if you are interested in the fascinating sports media circlejerk, as we are. If not, you probably don’t like our site outside of our fishy features of Paulina Gretzky and Kate Upton (but they’ve dated athletes!), and we apologize. Among this week’s topics, as is the case every week, is ESPN. ESPN is the Worldwide Leader in Sports on TV, which requires that it is the Worldwide Leader in Snark Received and Deserved, and Competitors Gunning For. Fox Sports 1 launches on August 17, and it seems like a legit threat to ESPN. But Deitsch interviewed ESPN president John Skipper, and he asserted his lack of fear. The message: we are ESPN and we control your lives. We are not scared of this “fox.” Doesn’t it have a hound to go befriend?

“The guys at Fox are smart and we are respectful of what they do but you heard from us a significant level of confidence,” Skipper said. “We like what we have and we like our ability to compete. Two things matter at the end of the day: What is your level of distribution and what subscription fees are you getting from that, and what is the live content that you have to put on that fans want? I would ask everybody writing all of these stories about competition to look at what we actually have and what they actually have before there’s any discussion about a head-to-head competition.”

Well, he’s right. While I think that Fox Sports Live, the show, will seriously challenge SportsCenter, that doesn’t necessarily mean Fox Sports 1, the channel, will challenge ESPN, the behemoth mind-controller.

Also: he (in)directly called me out! I am writing about this competition, so I will “look at what they actually have before there’s any discussion about a head-to-head competition.” Then, I will discuss the head-to-head competition (alright, I discussed it before, just leave me alone).

Fox Sports:

MLB: 26 Saturdays of games; All-Star Game; one League Championship Series; World Series
Lots of NFL
Men’s/Women’s Soccer World Cup’s, 2015-2022
Some college football
Some college basketball

Analysis: Meh, not too bad…

NBC Sports
Some NFL
Ivy League Football!
Colonial Athletic Association Football!!!! (didju see Shaka Smart run that ball in for six?!?!?)
Notre Dame Football
U.S. Open, Ryder Cup, The Players Championship, other golfy stuffs
The Triple Crown
English Premier League, starting in 2013
French Open (on tape delay! yay!)

Analysis: Meh, not too bad…


MLB: Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday Night Games; Opening Day games
NBA: A lot of stuff. They will continue to have a lot of stuff, according to Deitsch.
College Basketball: A good amount (but no NCAA tourney, as you know)
Monday Night Football
NCAA Football National Championship Game (the finale of… the “College Football Playoff”
Lots of regular season College Football
The Masters, British Open and Ryder Cup
NCAA Hockey Tourney
Major League Lacrosse
2014 World Cup
USMNT Soccer
Mexican Soccer
Bundesliga (ESPN Deportes)
All four tennis majors

Analysis: Gah!

So, ESPN=Russia, Other Channels=North Korea. They talk a big game and may have some powerful weapons, but they are not huge threats. There are other sports that exist that you can watch, too (many on ESPN3), and guess what: ESPN has most of them! They’ve got Sri Lanka Premier League Cricket, CFL, KHL (read with best Russian accent: if Russia is ally, company is invincible).

Many of Fox Sports’ rights are utilized on Fox, not their sports channels, too. They’re not switching NFL to Fox Sports 1, so that doesn’t help as much as it seems. Basically, ESPN wins. People will always watch ESPN, because people will always watch the NBA, NASCAR — all of these 17 million sports that they broadcast.

If ESPN shows a naked Skip Bayless fornicating with a naked Tim Tebow while Chris Broussard analyzes, horrified, with LZ Granderson crying in the background, people will (justifiably, obviously) freak out, but basketball fans will still watch the NBA, and stupid people (I’m kidding, I swear) will still watch NASCAR. To do so, they will turn on ESPN.

Again, I think Fox Sports Live will cut significantly into SportsCenter’s viewership. There’s no way to be sure, but I think/hope it will be a better product, and force SportsCenter to change. But that will be a tiny dent in ESPN’s Iron Man suit, and Iron Man does not care about the tiny dent in his suit, beyond aesthetic reasons. For now, Fox Sports 1 is a minor annoyance, a little kid running in front of Iron Man while he is trying to kill someone.

Skipper is a very smart man, and he obviously understands all of this.

How committed is Skipper to the ESPN2 afternoon lineup of Highly Questionable and SportsNation? “We are committed to those shows,” Skipper said. “We are in the process of looking at a different studio for Questionable — we think more of a live environment, one with a studio environment might work. As for SportsNation, it was very revolutionary when it came on. The graphics, the look, the feel of it. Michelle Beadle and Colin Cowherd did a great job. We moved it to LA and we liked the live feel of it. We have to think about what is next. It has been reported that Charissa Thompson is going to leave so we don’t have decisions yet. Nothing [on talent] has been decided but we are working on it. But this I can guarantee: It is on the air this year. It is on the air next year. And the year after that. We have the ability to keep things on, have consistency and be patient.”

“We have the ability to keep things on, have consistency and be patient.”

There you go. SportsCenter could lose its entire viewership (it won’t), and ESPN could still afford to produce it. That is an exaggeration, but it’s true. ESPN truly is the Russia of the sports media landscape. King Dictator “President” of a massive and potent country in which flaws abound, Putin will end every day feasting on a wild boar he killed by only using his thumbs, and then he will bathe in a pile of rubles, unconcerned about the public’s major problems, because they are insignificant to him. Then he will kill a hippopotamus with a spork.

Note: I enjoy Russia. If you would ever like to discuss that fascinating country, Tweet me, friend.

[Sports Illustrated]