The leadership of FS1 has changed, but the editorial ethos of the network will not. Multiple sources have told SI.com that Chief Operating Officer and Executive Producer Eric Shanks plans to continue the current editorial path of FS1, which features loud and brash sports opinion television. On Monday, Fox Sports fired Fox Sports National president Jamie Horowitz as a result of a sexual harassment probe by the company’s human resources department.
There are multiple factors why Shanks will stay with FS1's current programming in the near term. If Shanks bails on Horowitz’s strategy, the thinking goes, it will be a concession that Fox Sports has once again failed to come up with a successful editorial strategy for its cable sports outlet. Shanks also has many existing contracts on the books that were negotiated by Horowitz, including some with millions of dollars remaining. For example, Skip Bayless makes $6.5 million annually, and Colin Cowherd is believed to be in the same area code. As recently as two weeks ago, FS1 hired Ray Lewis as an NFL analyst, and it has dozens of on-air talent with dollars remaining on deals. FS1 has also invested significant dollars in marketing its opinion-over-all enterprise and is starting a New York-based morning show in September with Cris Carter and Nick Wright (both of whom were given additional money from their existing contacts which initially did not include doing a morning show). The relative low ratings of FS1’s studio shows do not bother Shanks, sources said.
Horowitz’s editorial vision, though hugely cynical and anathema to sports journalism, has reduced costs for the company given Fox Sports already owns the studio space and its biggest outlays for these shows are talent (whose costs are already baked in) and a small production staff. (News-gathering costs far more money than airing hosts blasting LeBron James, the Boston Celtics and Colin Kaepernick all day.)
Horowitz, who was hired by Fox Sports in May 2015, also further reduced costs by letting go of more than 20 digital staffers including executives brought over from USA Today with years of digital experience. Said one current Fox Sports staffer: “Think of it this way in sports terms: You bring in Chip Kelly as your coach, and he brings in his players. Then you fire Chip Kelly but you still have his players. What are you going to do? You have no choice at the moment but to play with what you have. Shanks is stuck.”
Shanks, via a Fox Sports spokesperson, declined to comment.
Regarding a permanent replacement for Horowitz as both the head of FS1 and Fox’s digital arm, Shanks has already heard from potential candidates and is said to be working through a list. The person coming in for that job will have a massive cleanup on his or her hands. Multiple current and former Fox Sports executives confirmed morale is terrible at the moment. The new head of FS1 will have to figure out how to make the synergy between Fox Sports’s remote or event production (the group that produces live sporting events) and FS1’s studio shows more palatable. The digital arm is more challenging: The staff has been gutted and even if one attempted to hire back those who were let go, how many staffers would commit to the place that disposed of them so easily?
“How bad is morale? Well, what is shittier than shitty?” said one Fox Sports staffer. "There are people I know who have worked at Fox Sports a long time who say it’s not the same place as before. These are people who were here before FS1. A lot of that has to do with the quality of people who were let go."
“There is a big disconnect between the studio group and the remote group,” said another Fox Sports staffer. “It’s like it's separate companies.”
“Everybody is miserable,” said a former Fox Sports executive, who speaks regularly to people at the company. “I was blessed to work with David Hill and Ed Goren and they encouraged you to stick your neck out for innovation and creativity. You could try 10 things and maybe four would work, but that made you a .400 hitter. But it’s a volume business, and that changes the playing field a bit."
One of the few Fox Sports employees with the standing and job security to talk publicly about the divide between studio and remote was Troy Aikman, who told SI.com last September upon Horowitz hiring Bayless: “To say I’m disappointed in the hiring of Skip Bayless would be an enormous understatement,” Aikman said. “Clearly, Jamie Horowitz and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to building a successful organization. I believe success is achieved by acquiring and developing talented, respected and credible individuals, none of which applies to Skip Bayless."
For those editorial romantics who believe Fox Sports execs would be appalled by having hot talkers as the editorial face of the network, guess again. As one sports media executive recently said to me: “They are not Disney. Look at the history of their reality shows.”
One current Fox Sports staffer remains hopeful that a management change at the top of FS1 will set things on a better course heading forward.
“There are a lot of us who hope you'll see more synergy and more promotion of the games during the week,” the staffer said. “ESPN's great at that. We have not been. There has been a divide between the two sides, and hopefully that changes.”