ESPN twists the knife in Fox Sports 1′s early ratings struggles

Yesterday Fox Sports 1 celebrated their one month launch anniversary.  We examined their first month in detail here, covering some of the highs and lows of the network's infancy.  The biggest takeaway from the network's launch is their ratings hovering close to NBCSN and failing to make a huge splash thus far.  Only one event drew more than 1 million viewers and studio shows without live lead-ins can't crack six figure viewership totals.  For all of Fox's ambitions, their ratings are proving that the much hyped attempt to take on ESPN directly from the outset has been, well, mostly hype.

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Given FS1's ratings, ESPN just couldn't help themselves in taking a shot at the prospective rival and twisting the knife in their modest start.  Their PR machine unleashed this tomahawk missle aimed directly at Los Angeles yesterday.  I'm sure an ESPN press release about ratings being up from August 17th – September 17th is nothing more than coincidental, right?

ESPN and FS1 taking their rivalry to subtweeting one another is always FUN!  As for the specific details about ESPN's ratings doing well, the network gleefully announced a 13% rise in total day viewership from last year and a 20% rise in primetime.

"As ESPN heads towards the final quarter of the calendar year – traditionally its strongest with a schedule full of NFL and college football games and studio programming, plus the start of NBA and college basketball – the network is riding a wave of momentum with viewership up 13 percent (an increase of 138,000 viewers in the average minute) in the last month, according to Nielsen.

Since August 17, ESPN has averaged 1,217,000 viewers (P2+) on a 24-hour basis, up 13 percent compared to the same four weeks a year ago (1,079,000).

In prime time, the network has enjoyed even stronger growth during this time span, rising 20 percent over 2012 with an average of 2,894,000 viewers (2,417,000 last year)."

What's the reasoning for ESPN's rising ratings in the last month when they just hit multi-year lows earlier this year?

It's the football, stupid.

ESPN ratings were down 1/3 earlier this year, but college and pro football have given the network a boost recently.  ESPN had a big start with its college football coverage thanks to Notre Dame-Michigan.  MNF was up thanks to Eagles-Redskins.  And, their studio programming during the day (NFL Live and NFL Insiders) are up compared to last year.  The expanded College GameDay is doing better for the network, too.  Football, and specifically the NFL, is ESPN's first, second, third, fourth, and fifth ratings driver.  There's a reason why ESPN has basically become a largely football network.  Football delivers ratings.

There is an insatiable thirst for college and pro football in this country and as far as cable sports go, ESPN controls that marketplace.  FS1 has some college games and their Fox Football Daily show, but their football lineup is the Sun Belt and ESPN is the SEC.  FS1 can't compete on that level yet.  As for ESPN, it's a much needed boost in ratings news given their own struggles earlier this year.  We'll see if those ratings can hold up in the spring without football to lead the way.

Matt Yoder

About Matt Yoder

Managing Editor of Awful Announcing and award winning sportswriter. Bloguin consigliere. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

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