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FOX Sports' goal: An ESPNZone for regulars

For the FOX Sports Grill, a new concept debuting this month in Scottsdale, Ariz., don't think Planet Hollywood. The restaurant/bar is partly owned by Fox Sports Net, but co-owner Ed Freeman, CEO of B&B Restaurant Ventures in Santa Barbara, Calif., emphasizes it is not a theme spot for tourists.

In an attempt to duplicate the success of rival network ESPN's ESPNZone concept, Fox Sports hired the creators of ESPNZone to put together a similar themed sports restaurant. The first effort will be located at The Promenade, a 975,000-sq.-ft., mixed-use project developed by The Pederson Group in Scottsdale.

“It's focused on a local audience of repeat customers,” he insists. “We're looking for high-density locations with middle to upper income populations, and specifically for people who go out several times a week.”

At 18,000 sq. ft., the restaurant will have to pull in a lot of regulars, but Freeman believes the concept has the chops to do it. For the sports fan, there's a 42-foot bar with 16 TV screens, three state-of-the-art, 12-foot screens and a lounge area for live music and sports-related presentations such as post-game analyses and coach interviews.

For diners, a separate dining room has no TV at all. While the Scottsdale facility includes a water wall, stone fireplace, wood grill and outdoor patio, other operations will be designed to reflect local tastes elsewhere.

According to Freeman, expansion will be slow and exclusively directed to the 25 communities in Fox's national TV network. He reports the company is near to signing a second lease, with three others in discussion, though the executive says probably only one will move forward.

“We will open only two restaurants next year and no more than three or four a year afterwards,” he says. “We're committed to maintaining quality by moving with caution.”

Battle of the networks

Competition is getting fierce between rival networks ESPN and Fox Sports Net. According to Fox Sports Net president Tracy Dolgin, the five-year-old network is trying to break the ESPN model by emphasizing regional and local sports in an attempt to attract less die-hard fans. And the strategy appears to be paying off. In prime time among the coveted audience of males ages 18 to 49, ESPN viewership is down 14% in the past year. Fox Sports Net is up 12% in the same group.

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