Sports Network Report Card: Who can challenge ESPN?

Fox Sports 1 came out swinging this August saying it was going to challenge ESPN and all that jazz. Big names were hired and studio sets were built. But the question remained; could Fox Sports 1 combat the ESPN monopoly?

Now that we are in December we have a big enough sample size to answer that question. Forget ratings as we are looking at overall quality. I now present the 2013 College Football TV Network Report Card.

Announcing

Fox Sports 1 edged out ESPN in this category scoring a 9 out of 10. ESPN and CBS tied at 8. The big difference is Gus Johnson. When he calls a game you just feel like something big or crazy is going to happen. FS1 had to pay him more to steal him away from CBS so it made a few ads to promote its star in the last two years. The first one is kind of too violent to be effective if you ask me.


The second might be a little frat boyish.

ESPN would score a 9 in this category too if it didn’t have the worse announcing team in the game on Thursday nights of David Pollack and Jesse Palmer. Not only are these two captains of the obvious but Pollack has upset women around the country this year.

Here’s an example of Palmer and Pollack making me mute the TV.

Overall, ESPN has the deepest stable of announcers but also has the weakest outliers.

Studio shows

This includes pregame, halftime and post games shows. ESPN earned first place with 8 out of 10. College Game Day is a big reason why as Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit have developed a unique TV tradition leading to many entertaining moments.

Game Day may not give great information about your teams but it is clearly watchable. Tom Rinaldi’s in depth stories are top-notch and the background signs lead to funny moments like the one seen here at Florida State.

What did you say Tom? I was a bit distracted.

What did you say Tom? I was a bit distracted.

College Football Final with the Helmet Stickers is also a great watch. Seeing Lou Holtz boasting about a FCS player for scoring seven touchdowns while holding a helmet is compelling, comical, and somehow informative all at the same time.

While ESPN has had many years to polish everything, FS1 is still in the start-up process. Its pregame show comes across as lacking interesting information and entertainment. Nothing like a staircase background to stare at for two hours.

Look at that staircase, it's so ... sleepy.

Look at that staircase, it’s so … sleepy.

Having a round table discussion debating the BCS rankings is pretty much the best FS1 can do. Anyone can do that at a barbershop, water cooler, or lunch break. Satellite interviews with coaches on the morning of their games reveal nothing. This one with Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops is only noteworthy based on the facial expressions these band members made in the background. The giant Pizza Hut ad doesn’t help the matter.

Everybody make an awkard face for Pizza Hut behind Bob.

Everybody make an awkard face for Pizza Hut behind Bob.

Erin Andrews is a pretty face but what is unique about FS1 is she is the focal point of the studio corps. It’s truly different in a good way as I can’t think of another football show where a woman is the star. Placing Andrews as the captain does make the show distinguishable from the plethora of other sports shows. Problem is Andrews is the only established personality the network has. Seriously, the show would be better off if Andrews pulled an “Orphan Black” and cloned herself six times. Below, she jokes at the 1:05 mark about who Tim Tebow will replace on the show, in front of her nameless colleagues, after Tebow was cut in the NFL. Also noticed the giant Hooters ad that flashed on the screen early on as FS1 is desperately trying to cash in on everything.

There just is not anyone there outside of Andrews that’s noteworthy.

To cover up for this shortfall of name recognition, entertainment and content, it seems that the network goes out of its way to showcase Andrews and other female members. FS1 uses a female meteorologist and conducts several live interviews with female correspondents at their big games. Don’t get carried away as FS1 is not really a feminist leader. All these women make it appear that beauty is a prerequisite. Instead of “girl power” it comes across as a desperate appeal to gather the fraternity viewership. Hence the massive Hooters ad.

The FS1 pregame show is just unwatchable until it finds its groove. So much so that FS1 has shown NASCAR coverage in its place one Saturday morning. When morning racing is a bigger draw it’s time to regroup. I give FS1 a 5 out of 10 for its studio shows.

CBS is notable too. Tim Brando hosts a show prior to the channel’s SEC games and has the best catch phrase of all the studio shows. Describing a Non-BCS team (Northern Illinois and Fresno State) that could crack the BCS as a “fly in the ointment” and it never gets old. When my Ball State Cardinals are mentioned he calls them the “Fighting Lettermans” because David Letterman is our biggest alumnus. The pandering works as I give CBS a 7 as it reports useful information too.

Game presentation

This is really where FS1’s inexperience shows. For those of us who have insufficient funds for a high-definition television, FS1’s scoreboard gets clipped off in the corner. Not only is this annoying, it almost makes the game unwatchable.

Who's winning? Can't tell because I'm watching FOX.

Who’s winning? Can’t tell because I’m watching FOX.

The font FS1 uses for the scoreboard can be difficult to read even on HD screens. Placing the scoreboard in the corner seems to get in the way more often as oppose to the standard bar format ESPN and CBS display.

When it comes down to it, watching a game on Fox takes more effort than watching on the other two networks. Plus, ESPN and CBS do a better job of telling side stories about the campus traditions and showing the atmosphere. CBS hammers it home about how passionate SEC fans are. ESPN literally gives you a taste of the campus with Todd Blackledge’s “Taste of the Town” segments. Fox is just completely outmatched in this category.

Quality of Games

This comes down to money as every network wants to score the best conferences. In college football it’s all about the SEC with CBS and ESPN shelling out the cash to obtain its rights. It’s not by chance that CBS seems to have a meaningful game every week.

While CBS takes the best piece out of the SEC pie, ESPN happily gobbles up the rest. The worldwide leader also has control on the pivotal games from the remaining power conferences. Fox has deals with the PAC-12 and the Big-12 but marquee games like Texas/Oklahoma and Stanford/Oregon aired under the ESPN flag. The best Fox can show is Baylor vs. Texas Tech. That’s not going to cut it.

Here is how I scored the three networks.

Network:                    ESPN     FOX    CBS
Announcing               8             9          8
Studio                        8             5          7
Presentation              9             5          9
Quality of Games      9              6         10
Totals                       34            25       34

Fox Sports 1 can still become a threat to ESPN but it is going to be a long process. ESPN has the power of habit on its side as sports fans automatically flip to its station. Fox must first clean up its game presentation and studio shows for it to even have a chance. But it may be years before those categories improve. Perhaps eternity.

So… who wants Tim Tebow?

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