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A Tale of Two Networks: It’s All In The State of Mind

Earlier today I read an article in the Sports Business Journal, and it struck a nerve with me. I’ve talked numerous times about being driven to win, caring about your ratings, and thriving on competition. If the final score doesn’t count, than why exactly are you playing the game?

Well, Jamie Horowitz, President of Fox Sports National Networks, and Sam Flood, NBC Sports’ Executive Producer, offer very different perspectives on their approach to competing.

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During the ’15 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology Conference, a panel took place and both men were asked to provide their vision for their respective brands.

NBCSNWhen asked to describe the NBC Sports Network’s strategy, Flood said “Multi-sport shows, for now, are not a part of our strategy. Instead, NBCSN has chosen to go all-in on the properties it owns rights to, such as “Sunday Night Football,” the NHL, the EPL, NASCAR and F1.

Focusing on the key play-by-play relationships makes a ton of sense, but the most powerful of those brands (Sunday Night Football) does not air on NBC Sports Network. It airs on NBC.

When you think about the programming choices on the NBC Sports Network, there’s little available to cause you to shift your viewing habits, even if you’re open minded to doing so.

Flood was then asked about the network’s approach to competing against other networks. He said, “We’re not looking to serve everyone in the audience. We’re looking to serve the specific audience that we have. Short-term, you’ve got to be what you are and be in love with the sports you have, and embrace the sports you have. If we’re going to be a buffet restaurant, it’s going to be a lot harder to get the people in there. If people know we’re serving steak, they’re going to come for the steak.”

Wait a second. You’re NOT trying to serve everyone in the audience? You have to love and embrace who you are, be satisfied with it, and not look to offer more choices to get people to sample your offerings? Someone needs to read “Thinking” by Walter Wintle.

fs1Horowitz on the other hand had a much different response when asked about battling other networks, more specifically, the top dog ESPN. He said “We’re here to compete. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a perfectly acceptable business and strategy that NBC is pursuing, but it’s not the one that Fox is pursuing. We’re here to compete all hours of the day, seven days a week. We’re not going to concede any ground to ESPN. Not now, not in the future, and I think that’s represented in the decisions we’ve made recently.”

I don’t know either of these gentleman on a personal basis. I only know their professional reputations, and the networks they represent. However, based on what each of them had to say, I can’t help but be energized by one, and demoralized by the other.

Since joining Fox Sports, Horowitz has made some bold moves to create interest in the brand. He’s added Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock, Katie Nolan has received a ton of promotion, and even Bill Simmons made a surprise appearance on the network last week. While the Fox Sports brand still has a long ways to go to overtake ESPN, it’s clear they’re trying.

Meanwhile, the NBC Sports Network doesn’t even receive consideration for my viewing time because they’ve done little to add to the product. I’ll tune in occasionally for “The Dan Patrick Show” or an NHL game, and I’ve even caught a handful of Mike Florio’s shows, but aside from that, there are very few reasons to watch the channel.

espnWhat stands out is the drastic difference in mentality. I recognize that knocking ESPN off its perch is a monumental task. Realistically, it’s probably not going to happen, and if it does, it’s probably going to take a decade or two.

One year ago I didn’t have any interest in turning on Fox Sports 1, but now they’ve given me reasons to consider it. I’m still an ESPN viewer first and foremost, and breaking that habit is going to take a ton of time, and work. It’s a strong brand that connects with me, and provides high quality programming and personalities, and live sporting events from the NFL, MLB, NBA and College Football.

That said, I also enjoy opinionated voices like Cowherd, Nolan, and Whitlock, so FS1 has done a nice job of adding some people to force me to think about them as an alternative.

For NBCSN, little has been done to spice up the presentation and programming. If I’m in the mood for NHL action or the DP show, I’ll check them out, but if improvements aren’t going to be made, and they’re satisfied with what they have, then why should I watch?

To use an analogy to wrap this up, Fox Sports has a house, and they’re making renovations to it, in hopes that when they throw their next party, I’ll attend it, have a great time, and want to come back again.

On the other hand, NBCSN needs a fresh coat of paint on its walls, and their siding needs to be washed to make the exterior look better, but they’re not interested in improving the overall appearance to make me or anyone else want to stop by.

It was Andre Agassi who once said “Image is everything” but to NBCSN that’s not the case. Which is why when I drive down the road, and get ready to pull up to the house, I ask myself if I even want to go inside. Ultimately I choose to drive right by.

Based on their responses earlier today, Flood doesn’t seem to care if I attend his gathering or not. He prefers a small circle, and wishes to keep the entertainment to a minimum.

Luckily, Horowitz is throwing one heck of a party down the street, and is insisting I stop by. I think I will. Hopefully the pool water’s warm and the beer is cold!

Jason Barrett
Jason Barrett
Jason Barrett is the President and Founder of Barrett Media since the company was created in September 2015. Prior to its arrival, JB served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He also spent time programming SportsTalk 950 in Philadelphia, 590 The Fan KFNS in St. Louis, and ESPN 1340/1390 in Poughkeepsie, NY. Jason also worked on-air and behind the scenes in local radio at 101.5 WPDH, WTBQ 1110AM, and WPYX 106.5. He also spent two years on the national stage, producing radio shows for ESPN Radio in Bristol, CT. Among them included the Dan Patrick Show, and GameNight. You can find JB on Twitter @SportsRadioPD. He's also reachable by email at [email protected].

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