Although it had been in the works for a while, today’s virtual upfront presentation by Fox Sports packed uncanny punch after Thursday’s big mask news.
The Centers for Disease Control dramatically shifted its guidance, saying those vaccinated against Covid-19 could ditch their masks in most situations. Fox’s 45-minute pitch almost completely avoided any mention of the pandemic, instead reveling in what the network expects will be a total return to sports normal. That means tailgate parties, cheers, jeers and capacity crowds (including at Michigan Stadium, which seats 107,000).
“It’s meaningful when you have full stadiums,” Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks told lead play-by-play announcer Joe Buck. “You feel it. It makes you broadcast differently. … And I’m sure it makes the players more amped-up.” Agreed Buck, “I can’t wait for these stadiums to be jam-packed.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, among others in the sports world, has expressed a similar view in recent months. Scientists and doctors have pointed to sports — from European soccer to NBA and college basketball games in the early part of 2020 — as a key part of Covid-19’s initial spread. As was the case last year, state and local authorities will still have the final say as to how leagues and teams are able to operate. Mask mandates could stay in place at several venues, and a recent Covid-19 outbreak on the New York Yankees — despite vaccinations in place — is a reminder that the risk is not zero.
The NFL’s 27-year run on Fox anchored the presentation, with EVP of Strategy and Insights Mike Mulvihill noting that the league last year accounted for 80 of the 100 most-watched programs on TV.
Between Fox’s Sunday afternoon and Thursday night telecasts, Fox had 40 of them, with rights to NFC teams in major markets like New York, LA, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas and Seattle. Mulvihill called them “dynamic markets that drive ratings and drive the American economy,” adding that the 16 NFC markets generate $2 trillion more economic activity than the 16 teams in the AFC, the other NFL conference.
Fox’s Thursday night run will end this fall, with Amazon Prime Video beginning its 11-year exclusive with the package. On the streaming front, the lone mention during the presentation was a plug for its ad-supported platform Tubi, which is adding a dedicated Fox Sports tab for its mostly on-demand offerings. “While the other guys are giving fans another password and a bill, we’re giving them free, premium content with broad reach,” Fox Sports host Erin Andrews declared.
Football — in the non-U.S. sense of the word, meaning soccer — also was a key message, with Fox noting that its World Cup broadcasts in 2022 will take place in November and December. That means an overflowing buffet, with Thanksgiving Day featuring a morning World Cup match followed by the Chicago Bears-Detroit Lions game; or a World Cup game paired with Big 10 college football.
Major League Baseball, which has been a Fox mainstay, also got significant real estate. Highlights, aside from the World Series, include a game between the New York Yankees and Mets on September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and a “Field of Dreams” game on August 12. The latter will feature the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox (Shoeless Joe Jackson’s team) on a field on the site in Iowa where the 1989 film was shot, 10-foot cornstalks and all.