The working relationship between ESPN and Fox is continuing to grow, and as it grows, it gets more and more complicated. The partnership truly began when the network behemoths combined on Pac 12 rights and an offer for the rights to the Big 12. Then, when ESPN re-upped with the Big East, rumors began to swirl that they'd sublicense games to Fox. Now, with the impending announcement of Fox winning the rights to the Catholic 7, there are rumors that Fox will be sublicensing games to ESPN within that deal.
What's going on here? Fox and ESPN are supposed to be bitter rivals and competitors, especially with today's launch announcement of Fox Sports One. John Ourand of Sports Business Journal took a look at the relationship, and the general consensus appears to be that the relationship between the two networks is one of convenience, rather than anything else. In Fox, ESPN has a competitor that doesn't have an established cable base (yet), as opposed to an established (yet floundering) competitor in NBC Sports Network.
For whatever reason, it looks like Fox and ESPN are trying to put a bullet in NBC Sports. The two froze NBC out of the Pac 12, froze them out of the Big East, froze them out of the Catholic 7, froze them out of MLB, froze them out of any relevant football, and left NBC holding the basket with the EPL, paying triple per season what Fox paid during their last deal. Starting in the fall, NBC Sports Network will be the NHL, EPL, Formula One, and the Winter Olympics a few months in. Nearly two years after rebranding, that's not exactly an All-Star package.
After Fox re-upped with NASCAR for the first 13 races of the season for the foreseeable future, would anyone be surprised to see ESPN perhaps link up with Fox again (as opposed to Turner) in an attempt to freeze NBC out once more? NASCAR is reportedly warming to the idea of going back to NBC, and NBC would obviously love to have the ratings NASCAR brings, but would NBC overpaying for the rights really be worth it for them? Fox paid $300 million per year over eight years for just those 13 races. If NASCAR does combine the ESPN and Turner packages for the final 23 races, wouldn't you expect them to ask for something along the lines of $600 million (at minimum) per year? Furthermore, how high would NBC be willing to go just to get their foot in the door of a major sport in America like NASCAR?
It'll be interesting to see what happens to the relationship between ESPN and Fox once Fox Sports One and Two launch. If FS One immediately overtakes NBCSN in the ratings and makes ESPN look in their rear-view mirror, what's going to happen with all those sublicensed games and the working relationship between the two? From the early reports about FS One, it looks like it's in a much, much stronger position to launch a challenge to ESPN than NBC has been in the last two years. For now, we don't have answers to the questions about what the future holds for all three networks. But it looks like ESPN and Fox are going with the logic of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" in regards to their partnerships and NBC Sports.
It sounds to me like Fox and ESPN will work together to bring down (1) NBC Sports Network, then set their target on CBS Sports Network next. After that, the sports broadcasting war will begin between those two.
I'm just amazed that the people at NBC didn't come through with a better offer to the Big East. They read too many CBS stories and thought they could get away with something. But hey, at least the Ivy League will continue to lock down that 3:30pm football slot.