Fox College Saturday, Fox Sports 1's answer - if you can even call it that - to ESPN's College GameDay was always slated to undergo a massive reshuffling after such a lackluster freshman season. Fox College Saturday was never going to beat College GameDay, but it wasn't supposed to get trounced 25-to-1 in the ratings, either. With host Erin Andrews off to the NFL full-time, now was as good a time as ever to try something different.
And different they will be.
The network announced Thursday a complete re-tooling of its college football pre-game efforts. Rebranded as Fox Sports Live: Countdown to Kickoff, the new show will air not on Saturday mornings, but Friday night at midnight ET. The one-hour show will then be re-run throughout the night and through Saturday morning, leading into Fox Sports 1's college football coverage on Saturday afternoon.
“We are really excited about this concept and feel like we have an awesome group of insiders and analysts who have covered the game and competed at its highest level," Fox Sports Live executive producer Michael Hughes said in a statement.
With Andrews out, the show will eschew a traditional host's role, opting instead for four in-studio analysts and a separate panel of three college football insiders. Joel Klatt and Petros Papadakis return as hosts, and are joined by Matt Leinart and Dave Wannstedt. (Fox executives were reportedly blown away by Wannstedt's audition. On the other hand, Leinart takes a new job with a complete lack of fanfare for the first time since he arrived at USC in 2001.) Fox's dot com acquisitions Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel will join returnee Clay Travis as the show's insiders.
"The format counts down the week’s biggest stories from 10 to 1, mixing in related analysis and conversation from the panel of experts," the announcement reads. "With FOX Sports also holding an expansive rights package for games this season, the show cuts away to on-site reports from the respective crews for previews of Saturday’s contests airing on FOX and FOX Sports 1. On-site game talent includes veteran broadcasters Gus Johnson, Charles Davis and Tim Brando among others."
The strategy is clear here. Better to be a perch in a bathtub than a tuna fish in the Pacific Ocean. Fox College Saturday was totally swallowed on Saturday mornings by GameDay, and figured to fare even worse this year with the debut of SEC Network's own traveling pre-game show as well as the ever-growing presence of the English Premier League on NBC Sports Network. Moving to late Friday night puts Countdown to Kickoff up only against SportsCenter, and allows for Fox Sports 1 to serve as an after party for those buzzing for content heading into the college football weekend. The audience figures to dwindle as GameDay ramps up and kickoff approaches, but considering the numbers they pulled previously, Fox will probably take that trade off.
The challenge, as with all Fox Sports 1 offerings at this point, is to siphon viewers away from ESPN. For those who are watching college football on Friday night, they're probably doing so on the Worldwide Leader. Fox Sports 1 has Colorado vs. Colorado State on the first Friday night of the season, and then only thrice more until Thanksgiving weekend - Middle Tennessee at Old Dominion on Sept. 26, Utah at Oregon State on Oct. 16, and UTEP at Rice on Nov. 21. Not exactly the type of games the GameDay crew is aching to attend.
Regardless, Fox's Countdown to Kickoff has a time slot all to itself. Now what can they do with it?