Carey Pushing Fox Sports Says Even He Flips on ESPN

Chase Carey, president of 21st Century Fox Inc., is finding out just how hard it is for sports fans to give up ESPN.

Carey, who is leading an effort to build out Fox Sports 1, said even he flips on ESPN, the dominant national cable sports network owned by Walt Disney Co.

“Look, I’m a sports fan and I’ll still go home and turn on 206 and go to ESPN and forget all about Fox Sports 1,” Carey said during a presentation at the Goldman Sachs Communocopia conference in New York today.

Fox and other rivals including Comcast Corp.’s NBC and CBS Corp. are trying to capture a slice of the lucrative sports TV market that ESPN invented in 1979. The network, which airs programs including SportsCenter, its flagship daily news telecast, is among the largest contributors to profit at Disney’s cable networks unit, and enjoys strong viewer loyalty built on some of the biggest sports rights.

While Fox, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, has the rights it needs for the Fox Sports 1 and is “more than half-way” to setting affiliate fee rates, Carey said it still needs to battle the inertia of consumers to switch over and increase viewer ratings.

ESPN, billed as part of a cable package, commands the highest price of any ad-supported channel and is in almost 100 million U.S. TV homes.

Fox started its rival network in August last year and is available in more than 90 million pay-TV homes. Carey said it takes two to three years to build a channel and that Fox is on plan to do that with its sports channel.

“It takes time to break the habit, and as you get more events it puts it more in the front of your mind,” Carey said. “That is a work in progress.”

Carey is not alone among media executives to get sucked into ESPN over their own sports programming. At this year’s Milken Global Conference in April, Les Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS said he’s on ESPN more than CBS, Variety reported.

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