Michael Bloom, senior VP of original programming at Fox Sports, has a message for marketers—he’s looking for partners to produce reality series that can air on Fox Sports 1 and other Fox Sports properties, series that can then also be shopped to other media entities around the world.
He points to the recent soccer documentary series Rise As One, which came about through a partnership between Fox Sports and Budweiser and aired both on Fox Sports 1 in late March and early April, and in more than 55 countries around the world.
“Budweiser approached us and wanted to do something for TV built around its overall Rise As One campaign for the World Cup,” Bloom says. “The Bud folks were fans of our Being: Liverpool series. We sat down and looked at different opportunities and came up with this idea.”
The series was produced and directed by veteran filmmakers Scott Boggins and Gabriel Spitzer, who have won a combined 15 Emmy Awards.
Bloom says meetings with Budweiser began around April 2013 and production on the series began that fall. “It’s the biggest branded series we’ve done so far, but we’ve also worked with other advertisers on various sponsored segments within our original series. We’d like to do another project with Budweiser. Their people were a dream to work with.”
Bloom joined Fox Sports about two years ago to develop original programming that would run in primetime for Fox Soccer channel, Speed and Fuel TV. Then Speed eventually became Fox Sports 1 and Fuel became Fox Sports 2.
Being: Liverpool, Bloom’s first original for Fox Sports, was a documentary series about the Liverpool Football Club; it was broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel in the fall of 2012, and followed the team behind the scenes during their summer preseason leading up to their regular Premier League year in 2012-13.
Bloom says much of programming he was first working on for Fox Sports 1 was being readied behind the scenes, since the network had not been officially announced yet.
“My first year I came in and was initially looking at doing programming for Speed and Fuel but didn’t do much because we knew Fox Sports 1 was on the horizon and we needed to get programming ready for it,” Bloom says.
Today, the original programming on Fox Sports 1 is produced under the Fox Sports Originals umbrella, which Bloom oversees. Some of the programming lends itself to integrations while for other programming, traditional commercial time is sold.
“Integrations can be done if they make sense and they can be done organically,” Bloom says. “But there are ad opportunities within our formats for both reality series and our studio shows. Our business model has us looking for shows that can air on the Fox Sports networks but that can also be sold around the world.”
Bloom says his unit meets regularly with advertisers to keep them updated on projects the network is producing, but his door is always open for marketers to approach him with ideas—much like Budweiser did. “It’s a two-way street; we are open to ideas. Marketers can come to us to discuss their ideas and make suggestions for programming. You never know where the next great programming idea will come from.”
While scripted series may be in the picture down the road, right now Bloom says Fox Sports Originals is concentrating only on non-scripted fare. And he says the ideas for each series should be a bit different than traditional reality TV programming.
“We are more into storytelling but much of our programming involves current situations that are timely and that can unfold in front of the viewers,” he says.
During Fox Sports 1’s first year, Bloom’s unit has introduced about 50 hours of new original programming.
Two recent series which premiered in late May are Back of the Shop, which airs on Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m., and The Pecos League, which airs on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m.
Back of the Shop is filmed at Jordan Sports Barbershop, a short distance from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. It’s a shop where many players who come into town to play the Yankees stop by for haircuts. Each 30-minute episode features unscripted and unfiltered dialogue among some of the most known baseball players and other athletes.
Bloom says because the discussion is unscripted, the athletes who appear are free to wax on any topics they choose. There’s no host and no one asking questions and Bloom says this makes the show that much more interesting. The guests sit in the barber chair manned by Jose Moises “Jordan” Lopez, who owns the shop.
The premiere episode featured a discussion between Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, Yankee outfielder Alfonso Soriano, New York Knicks guard Iman Shumpert and former NBA star Larry Johnson. Other guests this season will include former Yankee and now Seattle Mariners’ star Robinson Cano, New York Knicks’ player Amar’e Stoudemire and Dallas Cowboys’ wide receiver Dez Bryant.
“For Back of the Shop, we were looking for a vehicle where we could take athletes out of that athletic environment, outside the game, and get them to talk about topics that matter to them in an informal setting,” Bloom says.
The Pecos League is a short-run series that follows eight independent professional baseball teams playing in a league in New Mexico, Colorado and West Texas. In what is described as the “lowest level of professional baseball,” each player is given a jersey, a hat and $50 per week as they play with a dream of someday making it to the bigs.
Upcoming on June 24, Fox Sports 1 will premiere Big Sticks with Ken Griffey Jr., a series that will pair the future Hall of Famer with today’s MLB stars in discussions on the art and science of hitting.
Fox Sports 1 in October aired another of its “Being” series, this one Being: Mariano Rivera. The 90-minute documentary offered an all-access look at the now-retired Yankee pitching legend during his final season, from spring training through the end of the year, including myriad off-the-field events.
“We spent almost a year with Mariano and nothing was scripted,” Bloom says.
Bloom says Fox Sports Originals is trying to “forge new ground” in sports umbrella programming. “There is a whole generation of young TV viewers who have grown up on reality TV, but we want to do something different with reality TV. We want to come up with ideas and series that are not similar to what the other sports networks are doing.”