College Football Kickoff 2023: Fox Sports Strengthens Stranglehold on Big Noon Window
New graphics package, more audio access highlight major changes in new season
Although the tectonic shifts of college football that have dominated headlines this summer (expanded playoffs, conference realignment) will be manifest in 2024, this is still a big year for the sport’s television landscape.
CBS and NBC are joining the Big Ten fray. ESPN is digging in deeper with the SEC and the ACC. Meanwhile, Fox Sports is primed to take an even bigger step into the national limelight, a reality that would have seemed farfetched only a handful of years ago.
Fox Sports took its first bold step into the national college-football picture when it introduced Big Noon Saturday in 2019. The belief was that CBS owned the 3:30 window with the SEC game of the week, and ESPN mostly regionalized its afternoon coverage while putting a major focus on primetime. Fox, which had been producing plenty of college football for Fox Sports 1 and had an ownership stake and operational effort in Big Ten Network, believed there was land to claim on the national stage by gambling on wide interest in the early afternoon.
Four years in — even with a COVID gap — that appears to have been a win. Fox is in the driver’s seat as primary rightsholder with the Big Ten (one of the best-positioned conferences in the sport going forward), and noon ET has become appointment viewing for college-football fans nationwide.
“It has to start with a nod to the programming guys,” says Fox Sports lead college football game producer Chuck McDonald, who sits alongside director Rich Dewey at the front bench of the Big Noon Saturday game each week. “Our biggest games would always end up going against somebody else’s biggest game. Everything was pushed to primetime, and you’d just get lost. We never had our own voice in the sport. Now fans know that, at noon every week, we’re going to be putting out one of the better games in the country.”
Fox got the wheels turning with a Week 0 game at San Diego State last weekend, but the college-football party actually gets under way this weekend with the top Fox crew working two games: Thursday night’s Big Ten opener between Nebraska and Minnesota in Minneapolis (Fox, 8 p.m. ET) and Saturday’s Big Noon Saturday premiere between Colorado and TCU in Fort Worth, TX (Fox, noon).
On the production side, the most notable additions to this year’s Fox college-football shows are a new end-to-end graphics package and new opportunities to place microphones on more coaches and players in games sanctioned by the Big 12 Conference and the Pac-12 Conference.
It’s the first major update to Fox Sports’ college-football graphics package since 2020 and the property’s first custom design in some time (the latest package was a universal football rebranding that touched both NFL and college). The scorebug reintroduces team logos, and the entire package is larger and delivers a punchier presence that leans into the pomp and circumstance of on-campus game days. It also presents an exciting new palette for the front bench to work with.
“I think all of us were excited to watch that Week 0 game just to see [the graphics package] in action,” says McDonald, who also works the NASCAR circuit for Fox. “A lot of times, when you get a new package, the fonts will get changed, and there are some creative differences between crews. For us, what’s interesting is watching that first game, getting a preview, getting your mindset in on it. Then, I think, for our game, that’s when we get to start having some say in it.
“Our graphics team is incredible,” he continues, “and their expertise is in the design of the graphics. They take care of that and give us the palette. From there, we start to tweak or ask for things and subtle tweaks to it. This weekend, it’ll be a focus for us to get a feel for it, run with it the way it’s designed, and then you’ll start to see subtle differences as the season goes.”
One of Fox Sports’ signatures is audio, and this year’s college-football property is getting some nice enhancements on that front. In addition to getting more access — Fox has permission in certain circumstances to interview players at halftime, place cameras in locker rooms, etc. — the operations and engineering team (spearheaded onsite by Tech Producer Carlos Gonzalez) is also looking to up its game on field-effects mics. For the first time, Fox will be able to place a microphone on the umpire, who is regularly positioned in the thick of the action. The NCAA granted permission for that, and McDonald expects it to help enhance the overall mix of the show.
“In college,” he notes, “so much is focused on the atmosphere: the bands, the fans, the cheerleaders. Sometimes, you end up losing a little bit of the actual football in all of that. We’ve been fighting for years to get that mic onto the field so you can catch some of those pads crashing. Our team does an amazing job with what they have, but I think this gives them another tool. I think, as we dial that in, it’ll be subtle — I don’t know if everyone will even know it’s there — but I think it’ll make our mix a lot better.”
College football on Fox begins Thursday night when Nebraska visits Minnesota at 8 p.m. ET. Big Noon Kickoff returns on Saturday at 10 a.m. live from TCU. Big Noon Saturday follows with Colorado at TCU at noon.