Big-time college football is coming to FX this fall, as the network has agreed to carry a slate of at least 13 Big 12, Conference USA and Pac-12 games.
The package of Saturday NCAA football games will be culled from existing rights deals between Fox Sports and the three conferences. FX games are expected to air in the late afternoon and prime time windows.
All told, Fox Sports will broadcast nearly 200 games across the Fox broadcast network and its regional sports networks, as well as on Fox College Sports and FX.
While FX had a 10-year history of hosting high-profile sports franchises, carrying college football in the late ‘90s, Major League Baseball in 2001 and Nascar action between 2001 and 2006, the network hasn’t aired a live contest in five years.
The NCAA package comes on the heels of Fox Sports’ three-year renewal of its pact to carry UEFA Champions League soccer matches. While the majority of the 146-game tourney will air on Fox Soccer Channel, the RSNs and Fox Deportes will also host a number of UEFA matches. FX is expected to televise two UEFA Cup finals between 2013-15.
Looking at the bigger picture, the move to make FX a destination for college football signals Fox Sports’ desire to put the heat on rival rights holders ESPN/ABC Sports and NBC Universal. Not only did Fox wrest the rights to Conference USA games from Bristol in January, but it also nailed down a deal to carry the inaugural Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 3, 2011.
(Operating as the Pac-10 since 1978, the conference will adopt its new moniker upon the addition of Utah and Colorado.)
All games on FX will be produced by Fox Sports. Plans for shoulder programming (pre- and post-game shows) are in the works.
If the sudden shift to sports may strike some viewers as a bit of a departure for the network best known for its rough-and-tumble original dramas (Rescue Me, Sons of Anarchy, Justified), the FX brand can be a lot harder to pin down than that of your standard entertainment network. After having made significant investments in original comedies (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League, Louie, Archer) and acquired sitcoms (Two and a Half Men), FX perhaps is best categorized as a leading laugh-getter.
At the same time, the emphasis on homegrown and off-net fare ignores the network’s vast movie library. For example, FX last week drew its largest audience (2.54 million viewers) with a screening of the 2009 Robert Downey Jr. flick, Iron Man. A new episode of Justified drew 2.37 million viewers in its Wednesday 10 p.m. time slot, while repeats of Two and a Half Men and various superhero films made up the bulk of FX’s top-20 deliveries on the week.
With an average nightly draw of 888,000 viewers 18-49, FX is on track to close out the first quarter of 2011 up 20 percent in the core TV demo. All told, the network will post a 24 percent improvement in prime versus the year-ago period, delivering an average nightly audience of 1.64 million total viewers.