Mike Francesa will return to television March 24, seven weeks after the end of his long simulcast run on the YES Network. His new TV home: Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, the network's national cable sports outlets.
The WFAN host made the announcement during his radio show Wednesday, confirming a story in Newsday Feb. 9 that he was headed to Fox -- but with a previously unreported wrinkle.
Rather than appearing entirely on FS1, he will be seen on that channel only from 1 to 4 p.m., then will switch to FS2 from 4 to 6 p.m.
Francesa said on the air the two-channel plan "doesn't make any difference to us." But he said Fox's deal allows both outlets to be used, presumably in part to help promote both upstart channels.
"We did talk to a bunch of different people, but clearly the Fox Sports people were the most aggressive," he said. "They made the biggest offer. They offered us really the best vision of what they wanted to do . . . They really wanted to have a lot more presence in New York."
He added that Fox "clearly has a design on going after ESPN. That's very clear."
Francesa noted that Fox now owns 80 percent of YES, so his current and former simulcast partners are under the same corporate umbrella. Plus, in most Cablevision homes FS1 is on Channel 69, one down from YES.
FS1 is available in significantly more homes than FS2, however, so some viewers will be shut out of the final two hours. Cablevision, which owns Newsday, carries FS2 on a higher programming tier than FS1.
Francesa said in an interview after Wednesday's show that the Fox Sports 2 element was not a big part of the negotiations and that he initially "didn't see it being that big of an issue." He added, "I hope there are not too many people where it will impact them." He said he plans to discuss the matter with Fox executives.
Francesa said the Fox deal runs four years, coinciding with the remaining time on his WFAN contract.
Callers asked Francesa Wednesday whether he would change his show's content to reflect sports covered by Fox, or to reflect that he will be seen nationally. He assured them he would not.
"They said they have no interest in changing the show, so we're not changing the show," he said. "It will not change the show at all."'
Bill Wanger, Fox Sports' executive vice president of programming and research, said signing Francesa "makes a lot of sense on multiple fronts" for the network.
That includes switching Francesa to Fox Sports 2 "to help drive eyeballs" to the channel. "Fox Sports 2, while it is in fewer homes, is a very robust channel, and distribution is growing," he said.
Wanger said moving Francesa off FS1 at 4 p.m. allows that channel to retain its late-afternoon studio shows.
Is Fox concerned about putting a local radio figure on a national outlet? Wanger said Francesa has had plenty of national exposure through his YES simulcast and believes even people outside the New York area will embrace that aspect of his program.
WFAN is owned by CBS Radio, and CBS Sports Network simulcasts WFAN's morning show featuring Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton.
Francesa told Newsday in December he would not consider CBS Sports Network, saying, "There is absolutely zero chance I would go there because I don't think it fits the program . . . I think one is national and one is local and I don't think they marry well and it does not fit what I deem to be the strategic idea of the simulcast."
Last month Francesa said on the air there are people at CBS Sports Network with whom he does not get along. "Those guys would put Attila the Hun on their network before they'd put me on, OK?" he said.
Francesa said after Wednesday's show that he spoke that way at the time in part because he assumed he would land on a regional outlet rather than a national one, and also to make it clear that CBS Sports Network was not a viable option regardless.
"It was meant to really dismiss anyone from thinking CBS was a logical path for me," he said. "But when Fox came in as dramatically and enthusiastically as they did" he became enthused about the notion of a national outlet.
CBS Sports spokeswoman Jennifer Sabatelle said Wednesday, "There were never any discussions at CBS Sports about adding the Mike Francesa show to CBS Sports Network. We could not be more pleased with our choice to add Boomer and Carton to the network as our simulcast partner and are extremely satisfied with its success."