The increasingly frosty relationship between Mike Francesa and syndication partner Fox Sports 1 is back in the headlines. Francesa has been MIA on FS1 airwaves this week as he has been preempted by European soccer Tuesday-Thursday and today, NASCAR qualifying. Four out of five days this week Francesa has not been seen on Fox Sports 1.
The pope has not been shy about voicing his frustration with the preemption situation. Either he’s been bumped from Fox Sports entirely or the majority of his show has been relegated to the poorly distributed, lightly watched Fox Sports 2. This week, that led to threats of lawsuits from bosses at CBS Radio who Francesa alleges sent him a cease and desist letter to stop airing his grievances publicly. The situation is ugly and getting uglier.
Francesa’s show is supposed to be scheduled to air from 1-5 PM ET on Fox Sports 1 and from 5-6:30 on Fox Sports 2. The days that actually happens are few and far between. The reason why is obvious – whatever replaces Francesa does infinitely better in the ratings.
Over the course of the last month, since August 25th, The Mike Francesa Show has aired on Fox Sports 1 just seven times out of twenty weekdays. In that span, Francesa’s replacement programming has outrated him by almost a 3-1 margin.
Last Month’s Ratings
Mike Francesa Show on FS1: 40k average viewers
Preemption Programming: 111k average viewers
For live events like Champions League soccer or NASCAR practice, the disparity is much, much greater. This week Francesa’s Monday show averaged 54,000 viewers. The Champions League game on Tuesday (Borussia Dortmund-Arsenal) drew 316,000. That’s almost a 6-1 margin. Manchester City-Bayern Munich was seen by 221,000 viewers. Given Francesa’s much-publicized disdain for soccer, it has to be a doubly embarrassing scenario. The most-watched program on FS1 afternoons in the last month is actually a NASCAR practice session from Atlanta on August 29th that reached 354,000 viewers.
The numbers state the obvious – the relationship between Mike Francesa and Fox Sports 1 has not worked. Fox dropped Francesa’s heavily promoted live audience show when he did the ice bucket challenge this summer and he’s been relegated to FS2 on big news days, like LeBron James announcing his return to Cleveland. Quite frankly, it’s only a matter of time before the lawyers on both sides find a way out of the contract to put this matter behind them. One would expect that to happen much sooner rather than later.
Revisionist history aside, it was always a bit of a fool’s errand to think that a New York radio host could reach a national audience. While Francesa might be a draw in New York and a “viral sensation” in the blogosphere due to his prank callers and #MongoNation, that doesn’t translate to sports fans in Chicago caring about the Mets and Yankees.
Radio simulcasts are all the rage to fill hours of programming voids on sports networks all over the place. They’re inexpensive, live, and easy to put on the air. But live events will always take precedence. Live events will always outrate radio simulcasts and should always take priority. If Francesa and his people could tolerate that and being the default option when live sports aren’t taking place, then maybe this arrangement could have succeeded. Given Francesa’s ego and how many times he’s been preempted by sports he cares nothing about, there was really no other realistic outcome than what we’re seeing play out right now. A crash and burn.