Fox Sports 1 Studio Shows Stumble Out of Gate

Fox Sports Live, Crowd Goes Wild deliver tiny audiences at outset

After getting off to a fast start a little more than a week ago, Fox Sports 1’s signature highlights show is having trouble finding an audience.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Fox Sports Live put up some very soft numbers in its inaugural week. After bowing to 476,000 viewers on Aug. 17 (Saturday 10:45 p.m.-midnight EDT), the studio show dropped to 120,000 viewers on the following night and a mere 72,000 viewers on Monday. (By way of comparison, the late edition of ESPN’s SportsCenter averaged 1.94 million viewers in the same slot.)

By Tuesday, the highlights show had slipped to an average draw of 61,000 viewers during the 11 p.m. hour. In fact, ratings were so unsettled in late-night that the odd morning hour repeats generally out-delivered the live telecasts. For example, the Tuesday 2 a.m. repeat drew 87,000 viewers, or 21,000 more than the Wednesday 11 p.m. show.

While last week’s FSL results may be a bit disconcerting for the Fox Sports crew, it’s perhaps best not to read too much into the early data. For one thing, we are in the midst of the sports world’s version of a black hole, as Major League Baseball is presently the only active member of the Big Four. Presumably, live sports, like the network's upcoming college football slate, will drive a greater cohort of enthusiasts to the highlights show.

That said, other FS1 franchises are off to a disconcertingly poor start. Anchored by Regis Philbin, the panel show Crowd Goes Wild has had little luck in its weekday 5 p.m. slot. After premiering Monday, August 19, to 74,000 viewers, Crowd Goes Wild would go on to deliver 44,000 the following day. Wednesday’s show averaged 36,000 viewers, while the Thursday afternoon installment bottomed out in front of just 29,000 viewers.

Crowd did bounce back significantly on Friday, improving sixfold to 179,000 viewers. While there’s no surefire way to ascertain what caused the sudden upshift, perhaps it had something to do with a guest appearance by Isiah Thomas, who answered questions about his favorite breed of dog and the color of his aura.

Produced by Embassy Row, Crowd is shot in front of a live audience at Silver Screen Studios in New York’s Chelsea Piers complex. 

Thus far, FS1 earned its biggest deliveries on launch day, drawing 1.78 million viewers with its August 18 presentation of UFC Fight Night. A two-hour pre-bout show scared up 881,000 viewers, while an afternoon Nascar Camping World Truck Series event drew 783,000 fans.

In its first full week on the air, FS1 averaged 157,000 viewers in prime time, of which 67,000 were members of the adult 18-49 demo. The network also averaged 79,000 adults 25-54. The ratings were similarly proportioned in total-day, as FS1 averaged 81,000 viewers, 38,000 adults 18-49 and 40,000 members of the 25-54 set.

Clearly, the nascent network has a ways to go before it starts stealing share from ESPN. Last week, Bristol delivered 2.25 million viewers in prime, of which 958,000 were in the dollar demo. In other words, ESPN out-delivered the upstart by a factor of 14.

ESPN reaches 98.9 million U.S. households, or about 86 percent of all TV homes. FS1 launched in 90 million homes, or 78 percent of the national TV universe.

If FS1 isn’t exactly shaking up the big dog, it stood its ground against many of the other 24/7 sports nets. While NFL Network averaged more than double the prime time deliveries (384,000), MLB Network only beat out FS1 by a margin of 35,000 viewers. Meanwhile, the startup trounced NBC Sports Network (161,000 vs. 96,000) and easily handled Golf Channel, beating it by some 29,000 viewers.

Nielsen does not measure ratings for CBS Sports Network in an official capacity. The channel reaches just 48 million homes.

Thanks to the launch of its English Premier League coverage, NBCSN last week enjoyed a bit of a ratings bump. The sports net saw its week-over-week prime time deliveries rise 25 percent from 77,000 viewers, while total-day usage grew 29 percent to 80,000.

NBCSN’s inaugural EPL telecast (Stoke-Liverpool) averaged 287,000 viewers on the morning of Saturday, August 17. The 10 a.m. match between Aston Villa and Arsenal drew 450,000 diehards. (Unsurprisingly, NBC’s Manchester United-Swansea match at 12:30 p.m. put up the biggest numbers, delivering 792,000 viewers.)

All told, the four opening weekend matches on NBCSN averaged 356,000 viewers.

Soccer this week drew even more fans, converts and curiosity seekers, as Monday’s Man U-Chelsea match averaged 536,000 viewers, a near-record for an early-season EPL telecast. (ESPN2 drew 540,000 viewers with the August 22, 2011, Man U-Tottenham match.)

NBCUniversal snatched up the U.S. rights to EPL matches in October, signing a three-year, $250 million deal. Fox Sports had paid about a third of that ($80 million) for its 2010-12 contract.