All year long we’ve been following the battle between upstarts Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN to see which network can stake their claim as the #2 cable sports brand behind the ESPN monopoly. (Note: Of course ESPN2 leads FS1 and NBCSN as the second most watched cable sports network.)
While Fox Sports 1 saw much hype at launch, their ratings have been a roller coaster through the first year of the network with plenty of highs (beating ESPN head to head some nights) and plenty of lows (like the cancellation of most of their original studio programming lineup).
On the other hand, NBCSN has been playing the tortoise to Rupert Murdoch’s hare in this competition. The peacock’s sports outlet doesn’t get a fraction of the coverage that Fox Sports 1 does from the perspective of ambitiously trying to mount a challenge to ESPN. NBCSN’s approach has been to offer in-depth coverage of niche sports and owning leagues like the NHL and EPL. And in that respect, they’ve largely succeeded – NBCSN hit record ratings for the first half of the year.
NBCSN has also seen themselves stay comfortably ahead of Fox Sports 1 thus far in 2014. When last we checked the NBCSN vs FS1 ratings battle back in August, NBCSN had pulled well ahead of their rivals in Los Angeles. From January-July, NBCSN had a healthy lead over FS1 in both primetime and total-day viewers.
But with the fall came FS1’s biggest weapon – the MLB postseason. Were FS1’s first playoff games in one of the four major sports enough to see them catch up with NBCSN’s lead established over the first seven months of the year? The numbers might be quite surprising. Here’s the data from the week of July 28th through the week of October 20th….
FS1 Primetime Average: 500,923 viewers
NBCSN Primetime Average: 112,231 viewers
The results here are staggering. While NBCSN struggled greatly in primetime without the NHL, Fox saw record numbers thanks to their coverage of the MLB postseason. FS1 saw its Top 3 and 6 of its Top 10 audiences in network history thanks to the NLCS and divisional series action. In fact, FS1 crossed the 4 million viewers plateau for the first time as well. They reached a high-point of 1.6 million viewers in primetime for the week of October 13th. Major college football also significantly boosted FS1.
But those highs come with a bit of a caveat. After the MLB postseason moved to the Fox mothership, ratings came crashing back down as FS1 lost 85% of their primetime audience the next week. However, those 241,000 viewers the week of October 20th was still better than anything NBCSN produced during the barren time period.
FS1 Total-Day Average: 176,231 viewers
NBCSN Total-Day Average: 73,000 viewers
Powered by their impressive primetime lineup, FS1 more than doubled NBCSN in the total viewership category. With only the EPL and Formula 1 to carry the network from a live event standpoint, NBCSN saw their lowest ratings of the year by far, compared to when the Winter Olympics and NHL postseason boosted ratings.
As far as the year-to-date standings go, it’s now too close to call as FS1 has just put their nose ahead of NBCSN in primetime, but the peacock still holds the total-day viewership advantage.
FS1 Primetime Average: 335,047 viewers
NBCSN Primetime Average: 333,738 viewers
FS1 Total-Day Average: 131,548 viewers
NBCSN Total-Day Average: 158,167 viewers
FS1 is done with the MLB postseason, but they still have plenty of college football and basketball on the docket. Will that be enough to see them clearly overtake NBCSN and claim victory in their first full year of existence? We’ll find out once the year comes to a close.
(Ratings data via AA’s Douglas Pucci. If you’re interested in more ratings from around the sports world, make sure to come back every Friday afternoon when Douglas posts the Ratings Buzz for all the major sports networks.)