Eric Shanks talks about RSNs, sports in India and non-event sports programming at Morgan Stanley conference


Eric Shanks, FOX Sports president, COO and executive producer, spoke with Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Daniel Swinburne at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference today. During the 38-minute discussion, Eric touched on a wide range of topics, including regional sports networks (RSNs), the big sports opportunity in India and the importance of non-event sports programming.

On rising sports consumption: “Over the last 10 years, sports consumption has grown by over 9 billion hours, up 41%. So, it’s one of the key areas that is not only historically a key component of driving growth for our business, but it’s one of the sectors within the entertainment portfolio that is clearly growing.”

On FOX’s strong sports market share: “A big part of our business is the regional sports network, and we take into account the total consumption of sports minutes throughout the year. The market share is actually much closer than you would think. The leader is about 30% and FOX is at about 26% of total market share of sports, and then the next closest is down to about 18%.”

The importance of RSN business scale: “The difference between our RSN business and some of the others is really our scale. Scale matters in this business, and we have rights relationships with half of the professional teams in this country… And we’ve tried to make sure that we have the breadth of those local relationships… You don’t want to have a single-team RSN. So strategically we have at least a baseball team, an NBA team, you’d like to have a winter sport, if not two baseball teams, as in the case in Florida. So scale and the ability to actually own a territory when you are going into those discussions, we believe, matters. I think we’ve been very, very good at not only concentrating in certain markets and avoiding markets that kind of send trouble signs… I feel like we’ve been very disciplined in not saying that we have to do something… The RSN deals are still for the most part longer than national deals. So, you really are true partners with these teams and again being able to manage the business, so that you are managing the business with shared goals.”

On the big opportunity in India: “India is a market dominated by one central sport, but it’s a sports-hungry country. So there are opportunities, like what we’re doing, to build completely new sports and take ownership positions in those sports in countries like India… Uday [Shankar] and Nitin [Kukreja], running sports and running Star in India, quickly professionalized [the Pro Kabaddi league], which we own now in India, and it’s averaging in its second season about 135 million people per game… We own an equity position in the Indian soccer league, the Indian Super League. So, there are real opportunities in that country to try things, to see what sticks.”

On non-event sports programming: “I think that what we see is, based on some consumer viewing trends and consumption habits – we really are starting to put a focus on our non-event programming… I think what we’re seeing is a clear sign from the consumers – what they want in those off-hours that you are not doing a pregame show, postgame show or a live event, and I think that’s the [thing] we’ve brought in a new team to really focus on.”

On a strong portfolio of rights: “I think that the portfolio of rights that we have really kind of dovetail well with what a lot of the distributors want to do with some of their future packages. We have really young sports with a lot of volume. We have the largest soccer portfolio in this country. Soccer fits really well with distributors that want to launch either new streaming services or new OTT services. UFC is a really young sport.”

On Fox Sports 1: “I think that Fox Sports 1 was up 30%, total day rating. So that’s growth that you really can’t ignore.”

On advertising in sports: “[In] the sports market, what we’re seeing really, I think, is an acknowledgment that of all of the different places that people can advertise, there really is a trust and a safety inside of sports. You know where your brand is next to. You know that it’s being consumed 95% live.”

On the strength of RSNs: “Of 100 analysts, I would [ask] which channel they watch the most. And if they’re in a market where we have an RSN, more than likely, one of the top three channels they watch is an RSN.”

To hear more of Eric’s discussion, listen to the recorded webcast.