Last week became a pivotal one for FOXSports.com and all other online sports media companies. This week became a pivotal one for the man who ran FOX Sports.
Jamie Horowitz, hired to boost the network’s sluggish cable operation through the “embrace debate” model he incorporated while employed by ESPN (which included hiring ESPN talent and constantly twisting Bristol’s tail), was fired only days after implementing a decision to strip written work from the network’s website, turning it into a de facto YouTube channel carrying clips from the various FS1 studio shows.
Abruptly fired on Monday as a result of a sexual harassment investigation, questions immediately surfaced regarding when the investigation began and whether it had any connection to last week’s events. According to Meg James of the Los Angeles Times, the investigation commenced “about a week” before Horowitz was fired.
Per James, the investigation consisted of FOX interviewing “several women” about Horowitz’s behavior, including “prominent on-air personalities and show producers.”
Although it’s entirely possibly that Horowitz would have been fired on Monday even without last week’s much-criticized move to get FOX Sports out of the page view business, it’s impossible to completely separate the business decision made by Horowitz from the sexual harassment investigation, especially in light of the timing. The investigation may have been sparked by Horowitz’s power play, prompting people who had previously been silent about Horowitz to come forward. Also, upper management may have been more inclined to seize on an opportunity to rid itself of Horowitz without having to pay the balance of his contract, with last week’s decision and the internal strife it caused being the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Regardless, the signs still point to potential litigation, whether it flows from Horowitz’s effort to prove that good cause did not exist for his termination (which would require him to be paid the balance of his contract) or from a claim that FOX has defamed Horowitz by telling lies that hurt his reputation.
It also will be interesting to see whether FOXSports.com eventually brings back written online content, and whether the return happens quietly or with great fanfare.