How FOX is Changing the Game for Broadcasters

FOX Sports and its new sports betting product FOX Bet are set to change the broadcasting game in a major way.

FOX Bet recently debuted in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania as the country’s first major media company to fully enter the sports betting business. You can take a look at the new offering and check out our review here.

A recent press release from FOX Bet provides additional insight into what it’s all about:

FOX Bet is an online and mobile sports betting product developed through a first-of-its kind national media and sports wagering partnership in the United States between The Stars Group Inc. (Nasdaq: TSG)(TSX: TSGI) and FOX Sports, a unit of Fox Corporation (Nasdaq: FOXA, FOX). The FOX Bet online and mobile sportsbook brings sports fans closer to the games they love by integrating regulated real-money sports wagering with interactive and content rich programing, including expert commentary and insights from some of the nation’s most celebrated sports commentators and analysts.

It’s not hyperbole to suggest that this is a game changer for the relationship between the world of broadcasting and sports betting. As we covered in a piece on the topic back in May, the dynamic has changed in the new legal sports betting landscape. Sports betting is no longer the taboo topic it once was.

FOX has been ahead of the curve of a number compared to other outlets in many ways in this regard, and this is just the latest step.

FOX Knows: Live Programming is Where It’s At

In today’s fractured broadcasting environment with cord cutting options available everywhere you turn, there remains one thing that continues to bring large audiences to the television: live sports. FOX has recognized this for some time and has made a number of move to further its focus on live programming.

Last year, the network secured the rights to the NFL Thursday Night Football package. FOX began broadcasting TNF in 2018 with the initial relationship slated to last for five years. This season, the network’s coverage begins on September 19 with a matchup between the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The TNF schedule for 2019 wraps up on December 15 when the New York Jets pay a visit to the Baltimore Ravens. In short, FOX will have a broadcast on Thursday night for 13 weeks in the fall which is pretty much guaranteed to attract a healthy number of eyeballs, regardless of the other teams involved. How many other broadcast networks can make that claim?

The push to focus on live content is not limited to the NFL either. While college football has been a part of the FOX family for some time now, the network is stepping its game up there as well. Earlier this year, FOX Sports took the wraps off of a new pregame show which will serve as the lead-in for the network’s coverage.

In addition, FOX also seems to be making a point of having a marquee game of the week in the Noon EST broadcast window on Saturday afternoons. For other networks, the bigger college football games have traditionally been reserved for late afternoons and evening.

Beyond pigskin, FOX has also dropped a boatload of cash into the laps of WWE for the privilege of bringing SmackDown Live to its Friday Night lineup. Naturally, a huge part of the deal called for Smackdown to be live each and every week.

FS1’s Lock It In Provides Daily Sports Betting Insight

Sports betting has become a staple of the daily lineup on FS1, FOX’s cable sports arm. Lock It In airs weekdays Monday through Friday. The show takes a look at the news and events of the day from a betting perspective. Here’s how one network exec described the show in a press release:

“The thing I love most about LOCK IT IN is just how much fun it will be to watch. All four cast members have such big personalities and what sets the show apart is their shared love of sports, humor and competitiveness,” said Charlie Dixon, Executive Vice President, Content, FS1. “In the end, the show is not only about being right, it’s about being interesting.”

Other networks have also taken the cue since the legalization of sports betting, including ESPN with its Daily Wager show, which essentially aims to offer something similar to the show on FS1. Here’s ESPN Executive VP and Executive Editor Studio Production Norby Williamson on the Daily Wager:

“ESPN’s mission is to serve sports fans. The sports betting environment has changed and interest is increasing at unprecedented levels. ESPN is going to have a strong and vibrant presence across our platforms, and the launch of Daily Wager is the next step in what has already been underway for some time.”

While there are no indications that ESPN will follow FOX’s lead by introducing its own sports betting product, the network has not been shy about dipping its toes further into the waters. That includes the deal announced earlier this year with Caesars Entertainment for additional sports betting programming.

What’s Next for FOX and TV in General When it Comes to Sports Betting?

While FOX is first out of the gate with a network-branded sports betting platform, it’s not too hard to envision a future in which this becomes more commonplace. While other networks may shy away from putting their exact call letters on a product, it wouldn’t be super surprising to see additional partnerships announced in the future for branded telecasts or official betting partners.

On the other hand, major media companies are aware that entering the sports betting business comes with a certain amount of risk. As Chris Grove of Eilers & Krejcik recently pointed out for Reuters, these are big decisions for established media giants:

“Those are pretty heavy questions, especially for multibillion-dollar media behemoths that aren’t accustomed to turning on a dime.”

Then again, we’ve seen similar developments in the UK that have no resulted in ruin for the involved parties. The UK’s Sky TV was involved in online betting under the SkyBet.com brand from 2000 until selling its remaining stake in the business to The Stars Group in 2018 and was none worse for the wear after all was said and done.

Sports betting is big business, and it is only going to continue to grow as additional states climb on board. As such, live sports broadcasts will continue to attract viewers to the nearest TV set. For an added bonus, a thriving sports betting industry will in turn lead to a better environment for fans via better products and innovative offerings aimed at keeping them in house.

We’ve come a long way in a short period of time. The introduction of FOX Bet may seem like another small step, but it could turn out to be a very big one when all is said and done.

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