Vice Launches A Sports Channel, With Modest Ambitions (For Now) – Forbes

Vice Media CEO Shane Smith wants to displace ESPN ESPN as the global leader in sports news. He’s said so publicly and often.

When I interviewed him for a FORBES profile in December 2011, he told me, “I want to be the next CNN and the next ESPN and the next MTV MTV, digitally, and I know that sounds grandiose, but when we do our Google Google channels and our Chinese channels, we’re going to be one of the largest networks in the world. We will get there.”

By May of this year, when he spoke at TechCrunch Disrupt, his ambitions had only swelled. “[W]e won’t be the next CNN, or ESPN or MTV. We’ll be 10 times that size, and that’s what I think we’re going to do in the next few years.”

But there’s no trace of that triumphalist tone in the company’s launch of its new sports vertical, Vice Sports, today. “The sports media landscape, if we’re being honest, is really crowded,” says Ryan Duffy, who’s publisher of the new vertical. “We’re not going to out-ESPN ESPN. We’re not going to try.”

But it will be a more direct competitor than followers of the Vice brand might expect. Rather than cover the extreme sports associated with the global hipster lifestyle — skateboarding, rock climbing, etc. — it will focus on the four major American sports: football, baseball, basketball and, yes, hockey.

As well covered as those are already, Vice sees an opportunity to tell “character-driven stories, as opposed to event-driven or game-driven stories.” Shows will examine what players do on their days off, the lives of retired players, superfans and superstars in the making and other off-the-field topics. Here’s a teaser:

Those modest ambitions could scale up quickly if reports that Vice Media is close to taking on a major investment from Time Warner pan out. Time Warner is reportedly considering turning over the cable channel HLN to Vice, and it also owns the major sports news site Bleacher Report. But neither Vice nor Time Warner is commenting on the deal talks for now.

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