The two individuals most responsible for building and running the Fox Sports empire are Chase Carey and David Hill. Together, they have built an imposing empire of local, national and global sports channels that have catapulted Fox into one of the world's most powerful players in sports broadcasting.
Carey, co-chief operating officer of News Corp. and chairman of Fox Television, is the strategist and dealmaker. He was the driving force behind the broadcast agreements struck with the National Football League, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball. Hill, as chairman of Fox Broadcasting and president of Fox Sports, is the man in charge of all programming, marketing, advertising, sales and business affairs.
Carey and Hill were interviewed last week at Carey's office on the Twentieth Century Fox studio lot in West Los Angeles.
Question: What is Fox's strategy for sports?
Carey: In the television world we are competing in today, viewers get more and more choices for watching sports, and it is becoming more and more important to distinguish yourself, to brand yourself, to identify yourself, to provide the platform to drive your business. We have found that live professional sports and major sports have a lot of unique attributes that bind communities. For us, sports is a driving force behind our television business.
Q: You use the word "tribalism" to define the impact of sports on a community and even a nation. What do you mean by that?
Hill: The theory is that we actually live in tribal communities and no matter how we dress it up by calling it a metropolis or suburbia, whatever, we are really tribes. We currently live in the Los Angeles tribe and the teams that are here spark our level of interest. I am interested in the Kings, the Dodgers, the Lakers, to a very lesser extent I am interested in the Clippers and to an even lesser extent in the Angels. I think that mirrors who we are. If you look at the NFL, there are tribal followings. What we attempted to do with the cable network, because it is regional, is to concentrate on a region or that tribe that lives in that region whatever its ethnicity is. It is one of the reasons why college sports in the country is so important.
Q: How will that play out globally?
Carey: Sports, at its foundation, is local, but there is a general community following and in some degree you get competition which creates interest on a local, national and on a global level, like the Olympics or the World Cup. But at its core it is community based.
Hill: That's what makes the Olympics work; even though it is seen as a global entity, the reason for its success is because of its tribalism. You get a pang of emotion if your country's athlete wins a gold medal and they play your national anthem. That is what the Olympics is really all about.
Q: You are the only network that operates its sports division out of Los Angeles. Why L.A.?
Carey: It is historical; Twentieth Century Fox is the foundation. We are here because this is the location out of which Fox's television businesses have grown. We found that the vertically integrated components of the company work well where there is a movie studio, a network, sports and the like. We may consolidate even more things on the lot.
Q: The rights to many events are costing more and more, like the recent $18 billion Fox, CBS and ABC agreed to pay to air NFL games over the next eight years. At what point do these events become financially unfeasible?
Carey: You can't pick a point. Clearly it is an ongoing challenge. Certainly the prices associated with the NFL and the NBA have increased. But you are not looking to these sorts of events solely to sell 30-second ads. You are looking for them to be a force and a locomotive to drive your business.
Hill: Sports ebbs and flows. On a 1983 dollar-cost basis, tennis rights are nothing like they were worth back then, because it is not as popular today. Football, which has sustained this head of steam, has probably, on an '83 dollar basis, seen a proportionate increase. Track and field on the '83 dollar is worth nothing now. Nobody wants to watch them. Some sports are getting more expensive, like World Cup soccer and the Olympic Games, because they are nurtured. Football, too. The bottom line with sports is the basic law of supply and demand, economics 101.
Q: CBS has maintained it will make a profit on its new NFL deal. Will Fox?
Carey: Our goal is to make a profit. Obviously it is a long-term contract and we will have to see how it all plays out, but certainly it is a big ticket.
Q: What are the possibilities of Fox getting a football team in Los Angeles?
Carey: We bought the Dodgers because it is one of the great baseball franchises. Chavez Ravine is a great venue. For football, we respect the process that exists between the city and the Coliseum. We would like to see a team in Los Angeles. That would be a good thing for us as an NFL broadcaster.
Q: You have an option to buy a stake in the Kings and Lakers. What is the future of these potential deals?
Carey: We have options on those two and there is a process with each of those professional leagues that we have to work through. If we can move forward we would love to move forward with those options.
Q: In terms of synergy, what do you get from having the Dodgers that you didn't have before?
Carey: The benefit that you get from ownership as opposed to licensing is the ability to develop opportunities that one sees out of those rights. You don't know what those opportunities are. It isn't one where you go in and say, "we did it for TV rights, or the radio rights, or the online rights, or the restaurant rights." It is the ability to grow and develop opportunities. I can't give you a road map here are the six synergistic extensions of it. It is like owning a movie studio. It enables you, over time, to launch movie channels on satellite platforms or what have you. The Dodgers is one of the most valuable and best known and most successful franchises. There will be a lot of opportunities for us to take and build and expand on that. Los Angeles is not just another market. We would not have bought just any baseball team. To be in Los Angeles, New York, you are in markets that have unique roles in this country, unique abilities to develop and build things that really set the pace for the rest of the country.
Q: What else is on your plate?
Carey: I am not going to project what sports we are interested in. We are looking to do things that make sense. We recently took interest in niche cable channels, Speed Vision and Outdoor Life. We thought they were businesses that made sense and fit within the general portfolio of having a general sports channel. We have a piece of the Golf Channel. It is not something we have to do. The NFL alone brings great value. It provides a promotional vehicle for the network, the Fox stations, for entertainment and for other things. It is not a formulaic set of needs we have to fulfill.
Q: What role does Rupert Murdoch play in this?
Carey: He runs the company. He is the ultimate leader in the company. He is the one who sets the broad-based vision, the competitive spirit and agenda and aggressiveness for the company. It is very much a fluid process. This is a company that has been pretty lean in management, (and) that gives us an ability to operate quickly and aggressively and relatively comfortably with each other. There isn't a set pattern of "check this, check that, before you do it."
Q: He doesn't say, "Get the Dodgers, buy this team?"
Carey: No. It is much more fluid. Sometimes these ideas come from inside or they come from outside. Each and every one comes with a unique set of circumstances and occurred in different ways. He sets up a creative vision and a set of goals and ambitions, attitude, aggressiveness with an energy to pursue them.
Q: How would describe his tone?
Carey: Rupert has a tremendous sense of what the community wants, and by that I mean a community that is local, national and global. What motivates him comes out of his background as a newsman first and foremost, which really gives him a sense of what is going on within a community. He has a great sense of that and a great appreciation. He is a very competitive individual who is looking to build businesses of value.
Q: The toughest part of your job?
Carey: This is a business that is constantly changing and constantly moving and therefore it is a business that requires an almost constant level of energy and a constant level of attentiveness and focus. Six months from now it could be significantly different. You can't afford to let things just ride for a stretch. You can't fall upon old habits or fall back on old rules. I guess the toughest part about it is the constant attention you need and the constant energy you need to commit to it. With so many players, someone is always going to be changing the game and somebody is going to be changing the rules.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.