There's no question that next month's launch of Fox Sports 1 is an important milestone for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
UFC programming is a cornerstone of the new network, but you won't find as much UFC content on FS1 as you would on, say, Fuel TV. On Fuel, viewers can tune in at any time of any day of the week and expect to land on some sort of UFC rerun about 80 percent of the time. It's a smorgasbord of UFC programming, with everything from old PRIDE fights to complete seasons of The Ultimate Fighter airing with regularity.
FS1 isn't just an important new home for the UFC; it's also a landmark moment in the sports world. ESPN has dominated that corner of the market essentially since the inception of the network. It is synonymous with sports coverage. ESPN has deals in place with nearly every major sport. In short, it has the most-watched sports programming in the world.
But ESPN has operated in a vacuum for years. What I mean by that is that it has no competition. There are other all-sports networks, but none of them are considered major players with the kind of clout to challenge ESPN's dominance.
Fox Sports has that clout. It's a kingpin of the media industry, which is why Fox Sports 1 will be taken seriously from Day 1.
The only problem? The network hasn't even launched, and the movers and shakers behind the scenes appear to be setting up the network as an irreverent, hilarious alternative to the worldwide leader.
Richard Gottleib, Fox Sports senior vice president of marketing, gave this quote while talking to Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch (h/t Cynopsis media):
It’s pretty simple, while it’s not a tagline, the message is that it’s time for sports to be fun again. There’s the perception that sports and sports television has gotten too corporate and fans ultimately want to come for fun. The fun of the great comeback, the fun of performances that we will never forget that give you goose bumps. It’s not about steroids, Tim Tebow and other BS that keep getting crammed down our throat. So for FOX Sports 1, it’s in our DNA. We make things more fun, more colorful and more vivid and that’s our position of what we are promising to viewers. Fans want an alternative.
The major takeaway from the quote, for me, is this: "It's not about steroids."
It's no secret that the UFC has issues with performance-enhancing drugs. From marijuana (which is not a performance enhancing drug, but that's neither here nor there) to the endless debate surrounding testosterone replacement therapy, it often feels like drug scandals are never more than a stone's throw away.
Do you want an ESPN alternative?
It'll be the home of the UFC. Does that mean it'll gloss over news that isn't beneficial to the UFC or its roster of fighters? Will it pretend that the latest drug test failure didn't actually happen at all?
I hope that's not the case. Fans want an alternative to ESPN, but that doesn't mean they want a gussied-up version of The Man Show with a sports slant. They don't want hiijinks and comedy, at least not all the time. They still want the truth. And if they can't get it by watching Fox Sports 1, they'll go right back to ESPN, because it's familiar and it's home.
There is space for an alternative to ESPN. Fox Sports 1 might be able to succeed where others have failed, but it will only do so if it reports the truth and handles issues with honesty, even if it's in regard to its broadcasting partner, the UFC.
If Fox chooses to gloss over steroid failures and other major news stories that affect the people it's in business with, well, it won't be in business for very long.