MLBonFOX1

Fox Sports not worried about slow start for MLB on FS1

When Fox Sports 1 launched last August, it began with college sports, UFC, UEFA Champions League and a handful of other events. It was also looking to this Spring when it would begin airing Major League Baseball as a way to expand its audience. In the first eight telecasts of the season, Fox Sports 1 is averaging 489,000 viewers.

By comparison, ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball averaged 2.12 million million viewers for its first five games of the season which is up 7% from the same period last year. FS1′s viewership is better than MLB Network which averaged 267,000 in April.

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Fox Sports 1′s highest viewership to date was the April 19th Angels-Tigers game which attracted 668,000 viewers.

We know this is the first year and it will take fans some getting used to Fox Sports 1 carrying the majority of the MLB on Fox schedule, but is having just under 500,000 viewers for the first eight telecasts discouraging for network executives? Not if you talk with Mike Mulvihill, the Senior Vice President, Programming, Research and Content Strategy for Fox Sports. He tells Awful Announcing that this is right where they expected to be:

“The performance to date is in line with our expectations. To be a little more specific about it, I look at TBS’s Sunday afternoon MLB ratings as a pretty good barometer of where we’d like to be. My hope was that our ‘co-exist’ games, in which we are not exclusive in the home markets, would be roughly on par with TBS, and that our ‘FSN elevates’, which are exclusive in the home markets, would be better than TBS’s games.”

As evidence, he provided the ratings for the first five weeks that show Fox Sports 1′s ratings ahead of TBS through the same point last season:

Households

P 18-49

RTG

RTG

FS1 All To-date

0.44

0.17

FS1 Co-Exist

0.36

0.15

FS1 Regional Elevate

0.53

0.19

TBSC 2013 Reg Season

0.31

0.15

So what about the low 18-49 numbers and the increased median age showing an older demographic watching the games? Mulvihill is not worried:

“The age skew doesn’t concern me. The A18-49 ratings are in line with TBS as you see above. The median age has been higher than Turner’s so far but that shouldn’t be too surprising as we’re facing a good amount of young-skewing NHL and NBA. Maybe that will shift a little as the season goes on. Honestly I think too much is made of the subject of median age of baseball on TV, but that might be a topic for another day.”

But does Mulvilhill believe the younger viewers will come back to watch baseball this season?

“I do think the 18-49 rating will go up, although the reason is very mechanical. Starting on May 17th we’re going to hit a run of eight weeks where we are only doing one game per week on FS1, and those are all going to be the higher-rated “FSN Elevates” where we have exclusivity in the home markets. So that will be eight straight weeks where we’re doing the games that are currently averaging a 0.19 on the demo, and none of the games that are averaging a 0.15. That should help us.”

However, with the new contract, there are more games on Fox Sports 1 than on Fox. From 1996 until 2013, all of Fox’s MLB games had been on broadcast. Is Fox worried that fans might not find the games on FS1? Mulvihill says there’s always that fear that fans will not switch the channel to Fox Sports 1:

“I wouldn’t use the word “worried” to describe the way we think about fans finding games on FS1, but I do think it’s fair to say we acknowledge that it’s an ongoing process that’s going to take some time. Right now awareness of FS1 is excellent, and I base that on both our total reach since launch and our internal awareness tracking. The challenge is in converting that awareness into action. For us baseball is a huge component of our strategy to drive that action and develop new habits. Every time we do a 7.8 in Detroit for a Tigers game or a 7.5 in St. Louis for the Cardinals, which we have done, we help build those new habits bit by bit. It takes a lot of patience.”

So what will Fox do to promote awareness of MLB games on Fox Sports 1?

“The best tool we have right now for raising awareness is our own regional networks. I think they’ve done a great job of pushing their markets into the FS1 games. Here’s an example that gets a little arcane but bear with me: in markets where we own the local RSN and have been able to aggressively direct people to a local team’s exclusive appearance on FS1, we have almost matched the local RSN’s average for those teams. Those teams have averaged a 4.5 on FS1 versus a 5.2 on their RSNs. By comparison, we have had one exclusive appearance by a team that is not in a Fox RSN market – the Pirates on 4/26. In that case the Pirates did only half of their usual RSN rating when appearing on FS1 (3.5 vs. 6.9). So I think that being able to promote FS1 baseball aggressively on our RSNs has already had an impact.”

So as the season progresses, Mulvihill and the other Fox Sports executives are confident that Fox Sports 1 will become a destination for baseball fans.

One encouraging note, last Saturday night’s Detroit-Kansas City game on Fox Sports 1 did draw the network’s largest audience of the week:

Fox Sports executives are saying this is a marathon and not a sprint and they hope that the numbers will steadily rise as the season continues.

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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