Fox's lineup of live sports on Saturday nights has the affiliates board stoked, and a pending announcement related to expanding and enriching the Saturday primetime lineup has the station partners thinking things will get even better.
"The affiliates board is very pleased with it," said Steve Pruett, board chairman. "We intend to expand the concept and build on it."
Earlier this month, Fox announced it was adding 100 hours of live sports, including NASCAR, UFC and Major League Baseball, to Saturday primetime. Pruett would not share details on what sort of sports franchise Fox will add to Saturday nights, but said announcements will be coming in the coming weeks.
The Fox affiliates board met with the network April 16 in Las Vegas. After some acrimony between Fox and its affiliates in the past, several signs in the meeting suggested a closer working relationship between the two. Pruett said Fox plans to reinstate 10 regional sales conferences, which had been shelved during the recession. Stations send their sales managers to one of 10 major cities for sales lessons from Fox's affiliate relations execs.
"It's an intensive program for talking about the best way to sell these programs," said Pruett. "It's a complete package, including promotions. It stimulates and excites our sales people." Fox will continue to cover costs for its FPEC promotions get-together in July, said Pruett, and holds its owners meeting in October. Fox is also expanding its "No. 1 Club," where top station general managers meet and share best practices. "It was smaller during the [economic] crunch, but they're making it more open," said Pruett.
Network reps at the meeting included Jon Hookstratten and Mike Hopkins. The network execs spent about an hour with the affiliates board, and the board spent another hour discussing issues internally. Pruett described the meeting as upbeat, engaged and thoughtful.
Sharing retrans was not a major issue at the meeting. "The discussion between companies and Fox are following the lines established last year," Pruett said. "The model, I think, is generally accepted with relatively minor negotiations."
The affiliates body meets April 17 in Las Vegas, and Gordon Smith, NAB president and CEO, will be among the speakers. Last year's affiliates body meeting was long and divisive, but if the board meeting was any indication, this year's assembly should be more about commonalities than sticking points.
Pruett said much of the board meeting was dedicated to getting the affiliates more in sync with the network, and vice versa. "We're looking further ahead," he said, "to plan ahead with them on what kinds of things are coming up."