Fox and ESPN: Whats Behind the Unlikely Alliance?

ESPN and Fox have become the biggest partnership the media sector has ever seen.

(from Sports Business Journal March 4 2013) FOX and ESPN first started working together with a surprising partnership around the Big 12 Conference and continues with this week’s planned announcement around the Catholic 7. Over the past 2 years Fox Sports and ESPN have become partners unlike anything ever seen in the media sector of sports, especially considering with how the 2 companies are considered bitter rivals. The partnership has been the biggest topic in sports media circles for the past year. Inside NBC’s 30 Rock office they have begun using the term “FOSPN” when discussing the partnership.

Many individuals in the sports media sector see this partnership as a way for Fox and ESPN to keep NBC and its arsenal of sports channels at bay. However, executives who have worked for ESPN and Fox say the industry should still consider the 2 companies rivals.  “I see it as a marriage of convenience,” said sports media consultant Neal Pilson, who is advising the Catholic 7 on its media rights strategy, “I can tell you that ESPN and Fox don’t treat each other in a business context as kissing cousins. They are definitely competitors.”

However, the number of partnerships the 2 rivals have started is eye opening. In the upcoming week Fox Sports is set to announce launches of 2 new national sports channels, Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, which will instantly become ESPN’s biggest competitors. Fox Sports will also announce its 12 year $500 million media rights deal with the Catholic 7, however, Fox has been in contact with ESPN about sublicensing a package of games to ESPN.

With this gigantic partnership playing out, many onlookers and executives have noted that NBC Universal Sports and Olympics has been the odd network left out. ESPN, Fox, and CBS have all been in contact about sublicensing Big East games and Fox has talked to both ESPN and CBS about sublicensing Catholic 7 games. Thus far, NBC has not been part of either discussion. Fox Sports and ESPN also partnered a winning bid for Pac-12 Conference against NBC in 2011. If NBC wants to stay relevant in the sports networks it has some work to do.