Since 1998, Fox and CBS have been the main broadcast networks for the NFL. Fox initially won NFC rights from CBS in 1994 and CBS re-entered the game when they took AFC rights away from NBC four years later. In that decade plus since, both networks have carved an identity with NFL fans. But in that time, Fox has been much more effective at connecting with NFL fans through humor and entertainment.
Fox NFL Sunday has consistently been the number one pregame show in America because they found the successful balance of football insight and analysis and flat out absurdity. Regardless of where on the seriousness spectrum the Fox pregame show falls, the show succeeds because of the chemistry of the studio crew. When the Fox crowd does humor, it makes sense because it seems natural for Terry Bradshaw and the rest to be laughing. When CBS tries, it seems forced. Dan Marino shouldn't be doing comedy, unless it's his partnership with Ray Finkle. Bill Cowher and Shannon Sharpe are as funny as appendectomies. Just take this Fox Gangnam Style parody from this past week. Could you imagine James Brown and Boomer Esiason trying this?
Is it stupid? Absolutely! But football doesn't have to be such a serious thing all the time. Fox's success with adding humor into their NFL coverage is much like Turner's Inside the NBA. Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith won't open your eyes to a new world with their X's and O's, but they will entertain. The NFL on Fox has done the same. In fact, one wonders why they've maintained such a status quo MLB presentation over the same time frame with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.
Over the years, the NFL on Fox has been able to sell their unique branding of football and humor. Take this commercial from last year's promo campaign featuring Leon Black and Mike Pereira… and creepy Pereira baby clones…
Why does that ad work? Because Pereira is a huge selling point that separates Fox from CBS and because the commercial makes you laugh. CBS doesn't have a rules analyst like Pereira who can expertly explain every replay decision. Have you tried to listen to Dan Dierdorf bumble through a replay before? It's like being stuck in a dark underworld cave with no way out. It also works because of the NFL on Fox's identity. You wouldn't expect CBS to have a comedy spot with Jim Nantz or Phil Simms because it'd be distinctly out of character. This is where the Fox brand has separated from CBS. Cloned Mike Pereira babies is memorable, can you even remember a memorable NFL on CBS commercial? Ever?
At times, Fox pushes the humor envelope too far. The pregame comedy picks are unnecessary – sorry Rob Riggle, you're not doing it for me. But on the whole, it works when Fox can use humor and entertainment to spotlight why they are different than any other network who has covered the NFL before.