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Fox Sports 1’s ratings are falling back to earth

After a promising opening weekend, the ratings for Fox Sports 1 are crashing back to reality.  The network that is only 11 days old is realizing building a 24/7 cable sports empire is much more difficult than it seems.

Viewership totals for the channel are making their way into the public eye and the clouds are being lifted in seeing just how high the mountain is that Fox Sports 1 is hoping to climb to compete with ESPN.

In fact, thus far Fox Sports 1 is behind Speed in total day average viewership.  (Maybe all those angry Speed fans have a point after all.)  According to Nielsen (via Variety), Fox Sports 1 is averaging 81,000 total day viewers.  Speed averaged 100,000.  In primetime, FS1 is ahead thanks mainly to their opening night UFC bump, but just barely – 161,000 to 158,000.

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Last week Fox Sports 1 wasn't just behind ESPN in primetime viewership totals, they also lagged behind ESPN2, NFL Network, and MLB Network…

The good news for Fox is that FS1 is already outpacing NBCSN from the outset, which was predictable given their superior rights portfolio.  But what is discouraging for Fox Sports 1 are the viewership totals for their flagship program, Fox Sports Live.  Fox Sports Live is crashing back to earth at warp speed.  The debut episode on August 17th registered a 0.2 rating and 476,000 viewers.  Monday's program registered a 0.0 overnight rating.  That's… that's not good.

In viewing the ratings comparison between Fox Sports Live and SportsCenter, you can see just how large the gap between FS1 and ESPN truly is at the outset and the challenge FS1 faces.  From the week of August 19th-26th at 11 PM ET, SportsCenter averaged 1,002,588 viewers.  Fox Sports Live averaged 61,451 viewers.  SportsCenter had 16 times the audience of Fox Sports Live.

These numbers shouldn't cause the folks at Fox to go into a panic, cracking each others' heads open and feasting on the goo inside.  Building an all sports network from scratch takes time and Fox knows the most important factor for their short and long term success is live sports rights.  So far in their first week, FS1 has only really had the UFC and the Craftsman Truck Series to drive viewership.  No MLB.  No college football.  No college basketball.  Fox's studio shows are dependent on live sports lead-ins.  For instance, Regis Philbin's Crowd Goes Wild has ranged anywhere between 179,000 to just 29,000 in their young existence.

But anyone hoping for Fox Sports 1 to immediately challenge ESPN is in for a reality check.  As I've maintained, it's going to take years and possibly even decades for any potential challenger to reach or surpass ESPN's hold on the sports world.  The ratings throughout the first 11 days of Fox Sports 1 are proof of that reality.  At this point they're much closer to NBC Sports Network than they are to ESPN.

And to tell the truth, that's what should be expected for a network that is barely more than a week old.  It's going to take time for Fox to even surpass the old Speed viewership totals and build an audience that sees the network as a destination point and not just a place to watch a game or two.  FS1 is going to be dependent on their live sports programming to draw in viewers for some time moving forward.

ESPN wasn't built in a day, and the same is going to be true for Fox Sports 1.

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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