Rupert Murdoch is not a man used to failure. He created a fourth American broadcast network when skeptics said it was next to impossible. He left CNN in his rear-view mirror years ago, taking his Fox News channel to the top of the cable news ratings.
And now he has his sights set on ESPN.
Fox's current sports programming is spread across a number of channels and regional networks—football and baseball on the broadcast network, racing on Speed, UFC on Fuel and FX, and a wide variety of local sports on regional Fox Sports affiliates.
Although no official announcement has been made, the Los Angeles Times reports that the current paradigm will get a major shakeup by 2013. That's when the long rumored Fox Sports 1 channel may go from fantasy to reality:
The deal also clears the way for Fox to use baseball for a new national sports cable channel it is planning to launch in the summer of 2013. Fox's pact with baseball allows it to put as many as 40 games on a nationally distributed cable channel starting in 2014. Fox also received broad rights to baseball highlights that could be used for a sports news program similar to ESPN's "SportsCenter."
While Fox has declined to comment on its planned channel, people familiar with the matter said the company will convert its niche sports channel called Speed into a broad-based sports network.
"There will be a lot of things to come in the not too distant future," said Fox Sports Media Group Co-President Randy Freer.
Reports that a plan is in place to convert Speed TV into a wide-ranging ESPN competitor, focusing on baseball, racing, soccer and college football have circulated for months. But the recent Times report marks the first time UFC programming was explicitly tied to the new channel.
Dana White and the UFC brass must be thrilled. Ratings for the UFC are down across the board, but this proposed change would fix many of the problems that ail a sport that is still finding its way in the mainstream.
Moving from Fuel to an all-sports network like Fox Sports 1 is a huge upgrade. Speed reaches 82 million homes, more than double Fuel's meager 37 million, broadening the potential audience significantly.
And major sport lead-ins like college football and baseball could help bring new viewers to the sport, much the same way current advertising during NFL events on Fox have reaped major rewards.
It's too soon to know exactly how a shakeup would change things for the UFC, but this major move by the Fox family of networks could end up being a big part of any potential reversal of fortune. The UFC is looking to get back on track. This could be a move in the right direction.