Fox Sports Chief Eric Shanks Touts Fox Bet Gambling Initiative, Tells Investors Rights Portfolio “Second To None”

Fox Sports
Eric Shanks, left, with Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long at TCA in 2017 Shutterstock

Fox Sports is entering the legalized sports betting arena “ambitiously, aggressively, but also responsibly,” the division’s chief, Eric Shanks, declared during the Fox Corp. investor day Thursday.

Fox Bet, a new offering catering to those newly permitted to lay wagers in multiple states after a Supreme Court ruling cleared the path, will be “up and running by this football season,” Shanks said. He did not offer a detailed look at the service, which was made possible by a partnership between Fox and Canadian gambling outfit The Stars Group, which was announced yesterday.

Fox will become the first established media company to put its name on betting products aiming to compete in states with legalized betting against companies like FanDuel and DraftKings. In exchange for a $236 million investment in Stars, Fox gets about 5% of the company.

The push into betting was among several key points in Shanks’ presentation to Wall Street investors as the company showed off its newly slimmed-down make-up in the first detailed way since the mid-March closing of the Disney deal. That transaction saw two-thirds of Fox migrate to Disney, leaving broadcast, news and sports holdings. (Disney CEO Bob Iger affirmed on Wednesday that the company does not have any plans to explore sports gambling.)

Fox Sports chief Eric Shanks

Live sports across the traditional media landscape has become a crucial element for anyone with a stake in TV or streaming, and Fox is particularly well-positioned to take advantage of it, Shanks said.

“You see it now, or you regret missing it forever,” he said, noting the company will carry the Super Bowl in February and has locked up baseball’s World Series in a long-term deal.

“Our rights portfolio is second to none,” he said, describing sports viewing as “the single most essential trend in our business.”

In 1998, Shanks said, 25% of the top 100 programs in total ratings were sports. By 2018, with on-demand viewing and streaming redefining primetime, the percentage surged to 88%, with 63 of the top 100 programs being NFL broadcasts. (Fox indicated its view of sports by having lead play-by-play man Joe Buck deliver the introductory “please be seated” announcements today, and even disclosures about “non-GAAP accounting measures.”)

For advertisers, Shanks said, “content is essentially fungible.” If brands want to reach incremental audiences, off-network, recycled programming “will always likely be available to you.” On the other hand, “if you want to build reach in chunks of five, 10 or 15 million at a time … Fox Sports is the most powerful option.”

One chart that flashed on the screen tallied up total minutes of viewing in 2018, arriving at 615 billion as the total across Fox Sports and its cable siblings, FS1 and FS2. Unspoken during Shanks’ portion (though acknowledged by CEO Lachlan Murdoch and COO John Nallen) was the unloading of 22 regional sports networks as part of the Disney deal. Disney recently sold 21 of the networks to a Sinclair Broadcast Group-led set of buyers, with the flagship YES Network sold back to the New York Yankees, with Amazon and Sinclair also in the mix on that deal, which has yet to formally close.

Murdoch and Nallen both reaffirmed that Fox Corp. decided early on in the auction of the RSNs, which was agreed to by Disney as a condition of regulatory approval of the merger, that they would not seek to re-acquire the networks.

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