Two networks have made their respective U.S. cable debuts as Fight Network, the world’s premier combat sports channel, and FNTSY Sports Network, the first-ever channel dedicated to fantasy sports, have been added to the Optimum TV lineup in New York. Both networks are owned by Anthem Media Group.
Fight Network is a 24/7 television channel dedicated to complete coverage of combat sports. It airs programs focused on the entire scope of the combat sports genre, including mixed martial arts, boxing, kickboxing, professional wrestling, traditional martial arts, fight news and analysis, as well as fight-themed drama, reality series, documentaries and feature films. Fight Network’s dynamic programming lineup includes live events from around the world, extensive news coverage and expert analysis.
FNTSY Sports Network is the world’s first-ever television network specifically targeted towards the estimated 40 million people who play fantasy sports annually and on a daily basis. It includes live studio programming, call-in shows, panels, celebrity and expert drafts, reality programming and on-site commentary from sports venues, as well as short-form programming from the experts around the country.
Anthem Media Group CEO Leonard Asper spoke to Sports Media Report today about the deal and what it means for the channels and future plans.
Sports Media Report: What makes this the right time for Fight Network and FNTSY to find a U.S. cable home?
Leonard Asper: I think it has always been the right time, and long overdue. The idea of sports specialized channels has been around for awhile, whether it's in golf, tennis, outdoors, those have had channels for awhile. It's amazed me that combat sports hadn't found it yet. Like in motor sports, which has many events of different types, stock car, Indy, F-1, combat sports has a plethora of different content. We have the four major kinds of combat sports in wrestling, kick boxing, MMA, boxing, and even traditional martial arts events. And at the grassroots level, there are many who use combat sports primarily for training. We've been thinking about it for five or six years and really felt for a long time that we could fill this niche.
For FNTSY, that world is a more recent discovery for me. I didn't start out with the idea of a fantasy sports network, but had four or five sports entities in mind, fight network being one of them. Fantasy is a more recent addition, but when we did our brainstorm sessions, a couple of the guys kept banging their hands on the table, that we had to have this. I didn't realize how big the community is. The "a-ha" moment for me was when I was at a Broncos-Texans game and fans wearing Manning No. 8 jerseys were cheering when Arian Foster scored. Not huge cheers, but fist pumps. They were saying, 'Well I want the broncos to win 35-34 and Foster score four touchdowns.'
SMR: Do you anticipate other providers getting on board soon?
LA: I think they should be now that we are alive and broadcasting. Between the Website, app, YouTube, Facebook page, not only are we getting known in the New York area, but we are going to be set up at fights in Las Vegas, we're becoming known, the marketing will be ubiquitous. The plan is not just one cable system; it's to occupy sports tiers of all providers. We don't expect to be in 90 million homes, as we don't have the cost base requiring that. We can be low cost, fit within the pricing of sports tiers, reach on digital platforms, streaming to standard online access, YouTube, our own Websites and apps.
SMR: Along those lines, we are seeing niche channels like these in the digital space on services like Roku and Apple TV. Will that make it less critical for channels to be available via cable/satellite, or will that continue to be paramount?
LA: I still think cable/satellite are very important. The advertiser mentality is that there is a credibility factor when a channel has regular distribution, that stickiness, engagement of seeing a commercial on the TV screen while watching in the living room is powerful. They still have a screen, watching the commercials, and those 30-second spots have value. It's still the best way to get a message out. Not the only way, but still the most important part of the mix. I don't think you can have a full sports TV channel and just go digital. There is content, a la carte on YouTube, Fire, Roku, but viewers are just consuming it. We're trying to build a channel that appeals to brands.
SMR: Do you think adding Optimum and perhaps others will lead to more rights acquisitions, partnerships or other programming changes on both networks?
LA: We will definitely be growing out content, especially fantasy. Fight Network already has a good array of live fights, and the more systems we are on the more we will reinvest in the programming. We have spent the first five years in the investment cycle, acquiring rights, improving our programming, and spending some money covering fights. We do the big fights in Las Vegas but we want to be at all the major cards with a pre- and post-fight presence, and we've had a studio production in the works for six to eight months. On the FNTSY side, we want to cover expert drafts, celebrity drafts, have our own 'Mad Money' show, and add some fun programming, entertainment that would appeal to our audience.
SMR: Do you think this will lead to other opportunities for some of the other Anthem web properties?
LA: Yes. I think our elevator pitch is that we are building destination channels for passionate communities. We are building not just for men, but both fighting and fantasy are for both men and women. It's not just programming for guys, it serves the communities, whoever is in that audience. We will built relationships with carriers, distributors and advertisers. My theory is that we give them a good channel, make them some money, provide some ad inventory and they'll come back and say, 'What else do you got?' We have two other channel ideas in the advance stages.