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How do FOX Sports’ cutbacks affect MU, Big East?

Photo by Ryan Messier

Photo by Ryan Messier

Every time I post or Tweet negative news about FOX Sports 1, I get a decent amount of pushback from Marquette fans and Big East fans in general. The gist of most complaints is that it’s still early and I’m just scaring the kids. No need to rock the boat.

While FS1 is still in its infancy in comparison to ESPN, it is no longer a baby. Two years’ worth of data is more than enough for the big wigs at FOX to scale back the full FOX Sports operations. First came the news that all of the regional FOX Sports networks (think FSWisconsin) would cease to have reporters. In the blink of an eye, one of the main selling points (in depth, top notch, local coverage in 22 markets) ceased to exist.

(Editors Note: This hit me personally as I worked at FSW and FOX Sports North for a year, and I knew the subjects not only as peers but as friends and mentors.)

The sites wouldn’t go away, but they would instead be populated by AP stories as well as articles and videos from the national site. From a journalistic perspective, this was a giant step backward. You don’t cut 100 writers and get to maintain the level of coverage you previously enjoyed. From a spectator standpoint, relying on wire services is a giveaway of your audience. I can read an AP story on just about any site, I could only find Jesse Temple’s award-winning Badgers coverage in one spot.

Whatever the motivation, it was a black eye on FOX Sports as a news entity. Media companies contract to grow all the time, but it’s kind of hard to to do so when you take a blowtorch to the entire place.

 Then this happened today.

Understand that FS1 and the regional sites are completely separate entities under different management branches. Cutting back on both at once is not a random occurrence. This is coming from higher up the food chain than just sports.

Read that story again. FS1 is eliminating most of the news coordinator roles, taking news updates off the air and stuffing them online, cutting back on live reporting of events it doesn’t air, and cutting travel for pundits and reporters. Maybe not a blow torch, this time, but the casualties are not insignificant.

In one sense, Marquette and the Big East won’t be impacted, seeing as FS1 has those rights. But what about the rest of CBB? What about the NBA? The NHL? Most MLB games? Is it going to become the NFL, MMA, NASCAR and college football network? Is this Spike TV?

FOX Sports is stepping back from news at a local level. FOX Sports is stepping back from news at a national level. If sirens aren’t going off in your head right now, you aren’t paying attention. Let’s go to a person on the scene from that Awful Announcing article.

“One source inside Fox Sports described the atmosphere on Friday once the news began to spread of the restructuring as chaotic.”

No shit. Multiple high ranking people who had been lured from prominent positions just got axed. But wait it gets better. From an official FOX Sports release.

“We are shifting to a digital/mobile-first strategy under our successful @TheBuzzer brand to reflect changing consumer habits.”

The Buzzer, aka clickbait.com, is doing well, eh. Who would have guessed stealing free content from Twitter, TMZ and Instagram would be more profitable than in depth analysis?

But this was not your average startup. FOX Sports billed itself as a challenger to the mothership. The only thing it has challenged thus far is the record for the most 0.0 rated shows. With negative results and little opportunity for expanded content (none of the Big 4 sports leagues have contract negotiations in the next 3 years), FS1 is minimizing its losses.

Again, in the short term, this won’t have much of an impact on the Big East. Recruiting has remained in the upper echelon for the league as a whole and this season promises to have the most general fan interest of any with the big names like Kris Dunn, Jalen Brunson and Henry Ellenson getting top billing. But long term, the Big East is vulnerable to attacks on multiple fronts. Recruits want to play for good teams in bright lights. Coaches want to win, sure, but they want people to notice. Ratings the past two seasons haven’t quite satisfied those conditions.

The mid major label trolls dump on the Big East is nonsense. This is a power basketball league reputation and results. But even nonsense claims have sticking power with the right data and PR. The Big East profitably partnering with a determined startup is one thing. The Big East breaking even with a second fiddle is quite another.

I’m not arguing that the sky is falling. I’m not saying the Big East didn’t make the right decision a few years. I’m trying to show that there are red flags all around. It’s naive to pretend otherwise. 

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Categories: Analysis

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