With the first year anniversary of Fox Sports 1 approaching on Sunday, this week is FS1 Week at Awful Announcing. Over the course of the week, we’ll analyze the highs and lows of the first twelve months at “the one for fun” and what is in the network’s future.
Today, Steve Lepore looks into his crystal ball with 10 Questions for Fox Sports 1’s second year.
1. Can Fox Sports 1 improve college football ratings and turn the network into a destination for the sport?
Last season, Fox Sports 1 worked hard to try to challenge ESPN directly with their college football lineup, from game broadcasts to the studio. Their package (albeit airing a much larger package of games that included less desirable conferences) drew 529,000 viewers for college football, down from FX’s similar package in 2012 with 611,000 viewers. College football is such a massive business for ESPN that goes from College Gameday to the primetime game on ABC.
In many ways, Fox Sports 1 is rebooting its entire operation. Tim Brando, Dave Wannstedt, Brady Quinn, and others have joined the network from a talent perspective. On the scheduling side, FS1 has abandoned its Saturday morning pre-game show that was trounced by GameDay and is instead expanding their Fox broadcast pregame show. The lineup of games is improved though, so the question has to be asked once again heading into Year 2, can FS1 find a way to turn itself into a competitive college football brand?
2. Will Mike Francesa survive?
Francesa has a multi-year contract with the network. Yet he’s already spent much of his first year on Fox Sports 1 complaining about being pre-empted for, uh, stuff that gets way higher ratings than he does. Surely the show costs next to nothing (beyond Francesa’s salary) to put on the air, and fills four hours on days when there’s no Champions League. That said, the ratings are dismal, and Francesa remains concerned with little beyond the Yankees, Mets and Giants. It’s proof that putting a local radio show on national television just isn’t a great idea. That said, it’s not like any of FS1’s other original programming drew enough viewership to justify survival either in the viewership department.
On the other hand, might Fox try to add even more radio programming to fill more hours of their broadcast day? The network hired Tim Brando to call college football. His radio show airs 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. ET and used to be simulcast on CBS Sports Network. Seems like a perfect fit, no? FS1 isn’t in position to see their studio shows draw ratings, so they might as well try to find ways to air more live hours and do so efficiently.
3. Will the MLB Playoffs be the network’s shot at a second impression?
The Division Series and the LCS that Fox Sports 1 air will bring millions of viewers to the network. TBS by themselves drew 3.9 million viewers for LDS coverage in 2013. Their LCS (likely the National League’s, though neither Fox nor TBS will confirm this year’s format) has a shot at featuring the big-market Los Angeles Dodgers and the bandwagon-friendly St. Louis Cardinals making it. Can the network effectively extend its brand to the millions who tune in and get some viewers to stick with the channel? So far it hasn’t happened.
4. Can Fox Sports Live be fixed?
On some nights, the show is a very pleasant, funny, cohesive nightly rundown of sports news. Some nights, however, the panel shows up and splits the broadcast into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Will Fox finally figure out what (in their minds) works best and stick with it? For much, much more on this question, click here.
5. How will the network adjust to having soccer full-time with MLS and the Women’s World Cup?
Fox’s soccer coverage has gained a lot of criticism from outlets like SB Nation, World Soccer Talk… oh, and us. The network becomes the home of MLS and at least one of its marquee events (the All-Star Game and MLS Cup will alternate between FS1 and ESPN) starting next year. They also have the massive undertaking of a Women’s World Cup in Canada. There’s also going to be a Gold Cup and, oh yeah, the Bundesliga shows up next August. Will Fox’s much-maligned product turn it around as soccer becomes a flagship sport for FS1?
6. Will the network be able to use its digital assets more efficiently?
Fox Sports hasn’t really cross-promoted their digital aspects with FS1 very effectively. While their panel would be a great slot to see the cadre of talented writers they’ve hired, it’s still usually a place for ex-jocks to do second-rate First Take scripts. They’ve started doing a little better with the network’s new baseball site, Just A Bit Outside, but Fox has got to promote their digital assets better. A suggestion: Fox Sports 1 loves doing podcasts with their talent and putting long-form video of it on YouTube. Why not air them on the network during dead air-time?
7. Will Fox Sports Go and Fox Sports 2 improve distribution?
We’ve already written about how The Simpsons new app could be the way for Fox Sports Go to get into more households, but what about Fox Sports 2? There’s been little worth watching on the channel in year one unless you’re a hardcore Mike Francesa mongo, and the channel’s HD distribution is pathetic. What gets the network into more homes? Right now FS2 is a huge black mark on the Fox Sports brand as fan outrage is always palpable whenever an event has to move to the secondary channel.
8. Can the network finally develop a studio hit?
Fox Sports 1 gave up on the Regis Philbin headlined festival of weird Crowd Goes Wild and the surprisingly decent Fox Football Daily in a span of nine months. Those were two cornerstones of the initial FS1 daily lineup. Fox Soccer Daily was cancelled even earlier than that. The network’s baseball contract is keeping MLB Whiparound on the air, but it hasn’t really made much of a dent in ratings either. Watching Fox look to find that magic formula (if there is one) could be fascinating.
9. Will Jay and Dan be there at the end of it?
Onrait and O’Toole have two-year contracts, with Fox holding the option for two more years. Though their work has remained very good, and often the only thing worth writing about Fox Sports 1, they are A. associated with a show that a lot of people see as DOA ratings-wise, and B. still stuck with that panel. Fox Sports 1 should double up on the Canuck duo — send them to Canada to do shows from the Women’s World Cup, continue promoting them — but it’ll be interesting to see if Fox decides to cut bait when they have the opportunity.
10. Will Fox Sports 1 figure out an identity?
We all mocked (and continue to mock) Fox Sports 1 for trying to brand themselves as a “fun” version of ESPN, as if ESPN was built on 24 hours of uptight squares. They will regret those sentiments for a long time. Still, what exactly is Fox Sports 1?
Will FS1 become the network that prides itself on good journalism? Or a network that builds itself around Jay and Dan, and tries to take a more ironic look at sports news? Or, will they do a heel turn and try to be even more uptight than ESPN? The possibilities are endless, but Fox’s cable sports network is still lacking something that defines it as a whole.