Playing strictly in big leagues led to championship season

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NEW YORK -- You might forgive Fox Sports for taking a victory lap for its stellar recent run in the ratings.

Since October, Fox Sports has had the World Series, strong ratings for college football's Bowl Championship Series, the TV package for the NFL's National Football Conference, an upset NFC championship game in overtime on a frigid day in Green Bay, Wis., and a year-over-year increase in the ratings for the Daytona 500.

And, oh yeah, the most-watched Super Bowl ever.

As chairman of Fox Sports, David Hill has had one heck of a year, that's for sure.

"From the (American League Championship Series) through the Daytona 500, it's probably been the most incredible six months of my life, probably the busiest," Hill says.

He credits good timing and especially the people in front of and behind the camera for their hard work.

"We've got some of the best producers, directors and talent that operate in the world, and I think any reward we're reaping is one of the greatest team efforts," he says.

Fox Sports prides itself on taking only the big-ticket, high-profile properties and then finding a way to show them in a different and exciting way. There's no second- or third-tier sports on Fox's air, and there's been only one misstep: the NHL.

"We have been on a very clear path for 14 years for the sports that we have bid aggressively on because we really wanted to have them," Hill says. "Football, baseball, NASCAR and the BCS. When you see other sports crashing and burning, it's a validation of the decisions you made any number of years ago because none of these are small bets. It's very nice to have everything pay off."

Take the BCS, which had been dropped by ABC/ESPN after it figured it couldn't make enough money for it to be viable. (ABC kept the Rose Bowl, however.) Fox Sports swooped in and came up with a plan that has so far worked out well in the ratings. Hill says that the formula is simple: know that the BCS takes a lot of work on Fox's part and then carry it out to give it a whole new look. He says the ratings success is great but that it goes beyond that. He's most gratified by the response from the schools and the students who are happy that the athletes and musicians are showcased so well.

"We are the greatest advertisement for these sports, and it's up to us to showcase them," Hill says. "That's what we spend our time and energy and adrenaline doing."

The same thing goes for Major League Baseball, where Fox for a second straight year will start in April with its Saturday-afternoon game. Hill talks with admiration about the way MLB has turned its fortunes around on TV and at the ballpark, where it logged another record year in ticket sales in 2007.

"Baseball is in the beginning of a golden age," Hill said.

So what's next? It's impossible for the network to top its performance this year because it doesn't have the Super Bowl in 2009 and only has the National League Championship Series because the ALCS is with Turner this year. But Hill says there's plenty to be done.

"We won't try to top it," Hill says. "All we can do is present our sporting partners' products in the best possible light so it appeals to new viewers as well as the traditionalists and the long-term fans."

And there's also looking back at Fox's own championship season from the World Series to the Daytona 500. Fox will always have that.

"It's wonderful when the parabolic lines of fate intersect at the altar of Fortuna," Hill says.
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