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Speed channel steers into all-sports; Regis will take the stage

Charlotte-based hub will produce motorsports for Fox Sports 1

Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013
History of Speed 1994: Former ESPN President Roger Werner and cable pioneer Bill Daniels envisioned a channel dedicated to motorsports fans. 1995: Speedvision launched on New Year’s Eve in 3.2 million cable homes. 1999: Speedvision reaches 25 million homes on cable and satellite. 2001: Fox Cable Networks Group buys the network. 2002: Network moves to rented space in Charlotte from Connecticut. Riding the rising interest in NASCAR, the networks hits 45 million homes. It is renamed Speed channel under president Jim Liberatore and adds significant coverage from the Daytona 500 as it broadens its NASCAR coverage. 2003: Speed hits 60 million households and is the fastest growing sports cable network. 2004: In a bid to broaden its appeal to women, Speed tries lifestyle shows like the reality series “I Wanna Date a Race Car Driver.” It’s soon abandoned. 2005: Hunter Nickell takes over the network and expands into Latin America. 2007: Speed adds the Gatorade Duel at Daytona Speedweeks and NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. It hits 70 million U.S. households. 2008: Speed moves out of its cramped south Charlotte offices into sleek high-definition studios at Harris Boulevard and I-85. 2009: Speed becomes television partner of NASCAR Hall of Fame. 2010: Speed launches the broadband network Speed2. Network launches Speed Australia. 2012: Veteran Fox producer Scott Ackerson takes over as president. 2013: Speed hits 86 million U.S. households and changes brand to Fox Sports 1. Source: Speed channel, Observer archives.

Charlotte-based Speed channel will roll away this summer and Regis will take the stage.

Fox Networks announced Tuesday that Speed, the all-motorsports network dating to 1995, will be replaced on the cable dial by a new venture, Fox Sports 1, which will take it into competition with ESPN’s stable of sports channels.

NASCAR and other motorsports will continue to be carried on the channel, but the network will broaden content to other sports and add a 5 p.m. weekday panel show, “Rush Hour,” originating from New York and hosted by Regis Philbin.

Fox Sports Media Group executives said the new network will debut Aug. 17. Among other sports heading to the channel are collegiate basketball and football, and pro boxing and soccer.

In 2014, Major League Baseball will be added, including regular season games over 26 Saturdays and select league championship and division playoffs.

Speed in Charlotte

Speed channel moved to Charlotte from Connecticut in 2002 to take advantage of the proximity to NASCAR’s hub. In 2008, it built a production facility at Harris Boulevard and I-85 with $967,011 in incentives from the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

About 125 full-time workers are employed there, not counting a substantial seasonal workforce. Its building contains about 78,000 square feet of space, and is only two-thirds built out.

Charlotte will continue to be the base for motorsports coverage, said Speed spokesman Erik Arneson. Minimal jobs losses can be expected through redundancies, however, and some changes in jobs are likely, he said.

Eric Shanks, co-president of Fox Sports Media Group, said Charlotte will continue to be the center for motorsports coverage and will probably pick up additional production duties from the New York and West Coast hubs.

“Basically it is connected to L.A., so it really is an offshoot of the L.A. office. We can offload graphics production work, editing work to Charlotte, and then as we launch new shows, Charlotte is a viable place to actually produce new shows from.”

Already, the main studio at Speed is undergoing renovations for the Fox Sports 1 change and design bids are being sought for a new master set.

Fox takes on ESPN

Arneson said the popular Barrett-Jackson car auctions will continue on the new network, but other Speed lifestyle shows –including reality series “Car Warriors” and “Hard Parts: South Bronx” – will probably not have a future on Fox Sports 1.

By rebranding Speed, Fox has instant entry into nearly 90 million homes – well over two-thirds of households – served by cable or satellite, but still faces a formidable challenge against ESPN’s dominance.

“As a company we haven’t been afraid to innovate and take well-calculated risks,” co-president Randy Freer said. “We’ve devoted significant resources over the last few years to acquire and/or extend multi-platform rights with a wide variety of leagues and governing bodies well into the next decade, enough to give us a rich schedule right out of the box.”

Fox has long-term contracts in place with NASCAR, the NFL and Major League Baseball, providing a foundation for the new enterprise.

‘Double-box’ commercials

A new show, “Fox Football Daily,” will begin in August with Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Jay Glazer, Gus Johnson, Erin Andrews and Mike Pereira. It will focus on both pro and collegiate football.

Fox Sports 1 will also carry a SportsCenter-like wrap-up at 11 p.m. daily and will add a morning version in January, executives said.

College basketball games will air Monday and Thursday nights this fall with weekend coverage of the Big 12, Pac-12 and Conference USA. College football will include the Big Ten Championship Game and Pac-12 Championship Game in 2014.

Fox executives said the new network will make use of the “double box” commercial format, which keeps viewers in touch with the game or race while airing a commercial on the side.

Charlotte is a major national hub for sports media. In addition to the Fox facility, it is home to NASCAR digital and other motorsports ventures, The Sporting News, SportsBusiness Daily, ESPNU and Raycom sports.

Washburn: 704-358-5007.