FS1 is a little more than one month away from entering its fifth year of operation, but in its brief existence, the network has had some rather rocky moments. From its launch in August 2013, starting with a studio show hosted by a miscast Regis Philbin and an attempt to clone SportsCenter before shucking everything for “Embrace Debate 2.0,” FS1 has been all over the map. Its evolution continues, as it will become the home of the Big Ten in two months.
But how did it get here? It all began when Fox Sports decided to launch Fox Sports 1, but it wasn’t the first attempt for Fox to try a national cable sports network to compete with ESPN. Back in the 1990s, Fox tried to merge its Fox Sports Net affiliates into a national entity, but that didn’t work, so it kept them focused on local sports.
Then in 2013, Fox decided to try again, thinking that it had learned from the mistakes of the 1990s. Did it? We’ll need some time to decide that, but right now, let’s look at the history of Fox Sports 1/FS1. From its original studio lineup, trying to showcase Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, to the hiring of now-former Fox Sports National Networks president Jamie Horowitz and his eventual firing, the brief history of FS1 has made for some interesting stories.
Let’s look back at the beginning all the way to the present.
Rumors abounded in January that Fox was going to launch cable sports networks Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 by converting existing channels SPEED and Fuel. Under Fox’s plan, not only would SPEED and Fuel be replaced, but Fox Soccer would eventually become FXX, FX’s sister network and FX would no longer carry sports.
Our Matt Yoder looked at what content would be on the channels:
Fox Sports 1 will definitely have a lineup of sports that would place it on that next tier in prestige behind ESPN with NASCAR, Champions League soccer, UFC, MLB, college football and more to fill airtime. But what will air on Fox Sports 2? Will it be the less attractive content of the R.I.P. channels Speed, Fuel, and Fox Soccer? NASCAR qualifying perhaps? Archived soccer footage? AMA Supercross? If so, it’s difficult to imagine just how much of an impact Fox Sports 2 will make with such low distribution figures and a mish mash of secondary content.
Fox Sports 1 will get all the headlines, but watch carefully for what kind of programming News Corp. puts on FS2 because it will tell you plenty about Fox’s true ambitions with this rebranding. Will Fox Sports 2 merely be leftover crumbs from channels gone by the wayside or will News Corp. try to build not one, but two challengers to the Bristol behemoth?
So throughout 2013 up until its launch on Aug. 17, we heard plenty of hype about Fox Sports 1 from its planned programming schedule of its first day, various hires like Andy Roddick for its Fox Sports Live athletes panel (remember that panel?), Brian Urlacher for its NFL studio show, Bill Raftery for its Big East coverage, the announcement of the Regis Philbin-led Crowd Goes Wild, and a daily soccer studio show.
There were some hiccups along the way, like various negotiations with cable providers that went up to the last minute, but on Saturday, August 17, Fox flipped the switch and SPEED became Fox Sports 1 while Fuel changed over to Fox Sports 2.
Our Reva Friedel previewed the very first day of programming on both networks:
FS1 is going to launch with a College Football Kickoff, followed by an original program: Fantastic Finishes. I have been seeing you all on Twitter counting down to CFB and now it’s here so you have no excuse not to be up at 6am tomorrow watching! I mean it: tweet us pictures!
NASCAR fans will have four straight hours of live programming, starting at 8:30, with the Sprint Cup Practice.
FS2’s launch will happen later in the day with the Continential Car Challenge, here’s Wikipedia in case you need to learn what that is exactly. Set your DVR’s, because you might still be watching FS1’s 1 on 1 with Tom Brady and Michael Strahan. So much to choose from and we’re still in Saturday!
Lest we forget, Fox stressed Fox Sports 1 was going to be the “One for Fun” with no debates or mentions of Tim Tebow (remember the Tebow Jar?!).
And here’s the first segment of the very first Fox Sports Live with Charissa Thompson, the athletes panel, and Jay and Dan!
Yup, a totally different product than what is currently on the air, but as we will see in this timeline, things changed rather dramatically.
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.
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.
Just a mere month after launch, Joe Lucia wrote that the Fox Sports 1 programming schedule was already being tweaked:
Starting on Monday, NASCAR Race Hub is being expanded to an hour, beginning at 4 PM, throughout the Chase. Fox Soccer Daily is being moved up a half hour to 3:30. The scheduling of Fox Sports Live is also changing, as a rerun of Fox Football Daily is now airing at midnight following the 11 PM edition of Fox Sports Live. After a 1 AM version of the show, Fox Sports 1 is airing reruns of programming throughout the early hours of the morning until 6 AM, when the Fox Sports Live replays resume.
… I think it’s telling that changes are already happening. The men and women at Fox aren’t resting on their laurels and standing by the “well, we’re still a growing network” line of thinking. They’re at least trying to shift focus to what their viewers are watching and what’s been working so far, something that networks like NBCSN and CBS Sports Network have been slower to do in their existence.
In October, Fox secured rights to the German Bundesliga. Fox Sports 1 would begin airing its games in the summer of 2015.
In November, the issues with Fox Sports 1 slowly drained profits for parent company 21st Century Fox and its ratings were not meeting expectations, resulting in advertisers being provided with make-good commercials on other Fox Sports programming:
Since Fox Sports 1 launched in August, it’s been averaging 261,000 viewers, well below ESPN’s audience of two million in primetime. However, the channel which Fox Sports 1 replaced, Speed had been averaging 151,000 viewers.
Up until now, Fox Sports 1 had been offering live college football, a few boxing and UFC cards, some UEFA soccer games and been mostly depending on studio programming.
That moves us to Fox Sports 1’s first full year of operation.
Right off the bat in the new year, Fox Sports 1’s signature show Fox Sports Live suffered its lowest numbers yet:
Via @Seidman from the excellent TV By The Numbers site: Fox Sports Live drew 7,000 viewers last night for its 11PM ET show. Rough one.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) January 9, 2014
Matt Yoder wrote in late January that the host of Crowd Goes Wild, Regis Philbin was going to leave following Super Bowl XLVIII:
It was always going to be a short-term marriage between Regis and Fox Sports 1. Signing a daytime television host in his 80s to host an afternoon sports variety show isn’t exactly a long-term strategy. It’s hard to call Regis’ tenure at FS1 a success or a failure. I’m sure Fox would have liked a bigger ratings pop from someone of Philbin’s TV stature, but the show has certainly carved its own niche in FS1’s daily lineup.
So with Regis leaving, that left Crowd Goes Wild pretty much on thin ice for the rest of its run. And that led to speculation in February that Mike Francesa would be joining Fox Sports 1 to replace its most of the daytime lineup.
Also in February, Fox Sports 1’s first-ever NASCAR race gave the network its best ratings to date and a UEFA Champions League match did the same for Fox Sports 2. So it seemed like there was momentum for both networks.
In March, it became official. Mike Francesa would join Fox Sports 1, but not for the entirety of his show, as Matt Yoder wrote:
The most interesting element of Francesa’s FS1 deal is the simulcast arrangement. We had wondered how the sports pope would fit into Fox Sports 1’s studio programming with NASCAR Race Hub and Crowd Goes Wild already established in the late afternoon hours. It’s a unique situation for Francesa and Fox.
The first three hours of the radio show will be simulcasted on Fox Sports 1 from 1-4 PM ET.
The next two hours of the program will then move to Fox Sports 2 and air from 4-6 PM ET.
That’s right, Mike Francesa is too big to just be contained to one channel! It’s a four-year contract between Francesa and Fox, so expect to see plenty of the czar of New York sports talk over the near future.
Four years, huh? As we would see, nothing would be long-term on Fox Sports 1. Francesa’s debut would be a couple of weeks later and while it was interesting to see Francesa on a national platform, the show was in essence a New York radio show with New York issues. It didn’t play well outside the market.
Also in March, it was announced that Mike Hill and Molly McGrath would co-host America’s Pregame, a daily studio show that would preview each night’s action using the resources of Fox’s regional sports networks. It would replace Fox Football Daily on April 7.
Meanwhile, in its debut season of airing Major League Baseball, it was announced in April that Fox Sports 1 would carry an entire League Championship Series. It was a way to grow the network. But viewers either weren’t excited about Fox Sports 1’s regular season schedule or weren’t aware that it was airing MLB, as one of its games was beaten by a soccer friendly on ESPN2 in July.
After a month into airing MLB, Fox tried to spin that it wasn’t worried about the sluggish start in the ratings with its first eight windows averaging 489,000 viewers while ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball was averaging over 1.2 million viewers in that same period.
Fox Sports executive Mike Mulvihill told Awful Announcing back then that despite the ratings, the numbers were meeting expectations:
“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.”
So Fox was forging ahead with MLB, but that wasn’t the case for Crowd Goes Wild. The plug was finally pulled in May, meaning that Mike Francesa’s show would be expanded by an hour on Fox Sports 1, with the final hour airing on Fox Sports 2.
In July, NBCSN issued a press release that it was the fastest growing cable sports network dating back to Aug. 17, 2013, which (not so) coincidentally was the launch date of Fox Sports 1, Nielsen numbers would back that claim up.
In August, Fox Sports 1 announced a new Friday night college football studio show. It lasted just one season.
On the one-year anniversary of the network, we spoke with network general manager and COO David Nathanson. He told us that Fox Sports 1 was meeting expectations and had a bright future. We also asked him what he thought the network would look like in five years:
I think Fox Sports 1 will be a very different network five years from now. First and foremost, I think more fans will tune into us more often and for a longer period of time and ultimately, I think that a lot of our shows which continue to develop will certainly have found their strides, but beyond that, we’ll continue to evolve. If we’re not, then we’re not doing our job.
In October, the National League Division Series gave Fox Sports 1 some of its best ratings.
Also in October, Mike Francesa was growing increasingly dissatisfied with his simulcast agreement. Seeing multiple preemptions from UEFA Champions League games, NASCAR, and postseason baseball, all of which did far better in the ratings than his show, the Sports Pope lamented “I’d take less and put it on every day, but I can’t do anything about it.”
The MLB Postseason on Fox Sports 1 gave the network its best numbers and guided it to its first primetime win over NBCSN.
It might have been a new year, but some of the issues surrounding Fox Sports 1 remained. Mike Francesa was still complaining about his simulcast. The Big East, which suffered from low ratings in its first season on the network in 2014, was still experiencing the same problems in 2015.
But UFC’s Conor McGregor gave the network something to cheer about in his Fox Sports 1 Fight Night card that aired opposite the AFC Championship Game.
In February, it was announced rather unconventionally that Katie Nolan, who had been one of the cast members of Crowd Goes Wild, would be getting her own show, Garbage Time with Katie Nolan. At the time, Matt Yoder wrote that much wasn’t known about the show:
At this point, not much is known about the show other than that. No premiere date has been set and a format hasn’t been decided.
As February was about to transition into March, Fox got into a dispute with AT&T U-Verse. While the network was still being carried, several big events like NASCAR and college basketball were blacked out. The dispute lasted several months, but finally ended in June, some three-and-a-half months after it began.
In March, rumors surfaced that Fox was going to hire former ESPN wunderkind Jamie Horowitz.
Later in the month, the first season of Garbage Time with Katie Nolan debuted.
In April, Fox hired Horowitz to turn Fox Sports 1’s fortunes around. From the official announcement:
FOX Sports, the world’s leading sports media brand, is reorganizing its U.S. management structure. The announcement was made today by Eric Shanks, President, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Producer, FOX Sports.
Headlining this restructuring is the appointment of Jamie Horowitz to the newly created position of President, FOX Sports National Networks. Horowitz, a former ESPN and NBC News executive, oversees all programming, marketing and scheduling for FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2, reporting directly to Shanks. His responsibilities also include management and development of original programming and day-to-day operations for FOX Sports 1’s news and studio programs, including AMERICA’S PREGAME, NASCAR RACEHUB and FOX SPORTS LIVE, the channel’s flagship nightly news, highlights and commentary program. Horowitz will be based at the Fox Network Center in Los Angeles and is scheduled to assume his new position in mid-May.
Fox hired Horowitz following his disastrous tenure on NBC’s TODAY show. It wouldn’t take long for Horowitz to make his presence at Fox felt.
In June, Fox signed an agreement to have Premier Boxing Champions bouts on Fox Sports 1. While Fox Sports 1 had been airing Golden Boy Boxing, the PBC would eventually take over all of the network’s boxing programming.
One of Fox Sports 1’s biggest events in its young history was the Women’s World Cup in Canada and Team USA’s run to its first championship since 1999 led to some big numbers. The USA-Columbia game garnered 4.7 million viewers, blowing away any previous records on the network. Even the Japan-England semifinal game brought eyeballs to Fox Sports 1.
The Summer of Soccer continued with the Gold Cup and its ratings were a hit for Fox Sports 1.
As the Women’s World Cup was winding down, Awful Announcing learned that Fox Sports 1 would be cutting back on its news-gathering operations as our Joe Lucia reported:
We’ve also learned that Fox Sports 1 is planning on cutting back on live reporting for events it doesn’t have the rights to air and pundits and reporters will be doing much less traveling as a part of these moves. One source inside Fox Sports described the atmosphere on Friday once the news began to spread of the restructuring as chaotic.
We noted that this was a move that Fox had planned before bringing Jamie Horowitz on-board in May, but it was probably sped up with his hiring.
Horowitz began the “Embrace Debate 2.0” era at Fox Sports 1 bringing former ESPN exec Charlie Dixon to the fold as executive vice president of content and production for Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2.
That wasn’t the only hire Horowitz made that summer. He would lure Colin Cowherd away from ESPN, bringing him to Los Angeles with the promise of a radio-TV simulcast, as well regular appearances on Fox Sports 1.
Where would that leave Mike Francesa? First, he was to be simulcast entirely on Fox Sports 2. But by September, he was gone completely, his last show airing on Sept. 11, leaving him without a TV simulcast.
In July, Fox announced an agreement to air the Westminster Dog Show.
Andy Roddick, who was part of the original Fox Sports Live, was let go.
Fox’s high hopes for the Bundesliga were dashed when it debuted in August with low ratings:
According to Sports TV Ratings, the first Bundesliga match on Fox Sports 1 – Wolfsburg vs Eintracht Frankfurt – drew 50,000 viewers on Sunday. Just 50,000.
To put that viewership number into full perspective, here’s what the other televised soccer matches in America did on that day:
Chelsea-Man City (NBCSN): 818,000
Arsenal-Crystal Palace (NBCSN): 417,000
Seattle-Orlando City (ESPN2): 345,000
USWNT-Costa Rica (FS1): 315,000
Toluca-Guadalajara (UDN): 199,000
Philadelphia-Chicago (FS1): 120,000
Wolfsburg-Frankfurt (FS1): 50,000
Come September, we would no longer be writing “Fox Sports 1.” The network would rebrand to FS1 and its logos reflected as such. Fox Sports 2 would be known as FS2.
Later that month, Fox announced that America’s Pregame would be canceled. In its place (temporarily would) be a Colin Cowherd clip show. Our Joe Lucia wrote that “FS1 is looking to add a show in the afternoon window that is “more conversational” and “more opinionated”.”
In October, FS1 made another splashy hire by bringing in Jason Whitlock.
Jay and Dan signed new contracts with FS1 through 2017. As Matt Yoder wrote, the signing was a no-brainer:
Onrait and O’Toole are one of the best things about FS1 and their presence is something that actually delineates FS1 from their competitors. And as FS1 picks up more live sports rights, ratings continue to improve for the network’s flagship program. The last month has seen the most-watched episode of FS Live average 164,000 viewers according to our ratings guru Douglas Pucci.
One month later, Colleen Dominguez filed an age discrimination suit against Fox alleging that her bosses reduced her assignments while giving more to younger reporters.
Jamie Horowitz’s influence on FS1 was really felt this year. Reports began to surface in January that Fox Sports Live was going to be revamped and no longer depend on highlights as the focus. Alex Putterman cited a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Deitsch about the changes that had been happening at FS1.
“… whatever replaces Fox Sports Live will focus on opinion over highlights and reporting, which makes sense given the direction FS1 has headed since bringing in former ESPN exec and First Take producer Jamie Horowitz. In recent months, the network has put its money behind outspoken personalities like Colin Cowherd, Jason Whitlock and Clay Travis; whether or not FS1 chooses to feature those voices more prominently in the post Fox Sports Live era, the honchos there have shown where their priorities lie.”
The new Fox Sports Live debuted in late February, totally abandoning highlights and depending more on Jay and Dan’s humor with a couple of interview segments thrown in. Andrew Bucholtz watched the FSL reboot:
“…it’s mostly a humor show, largely comprised of Onrait and O’Toole riffing on sports and non-sports topics of the day with substantial meta components, mixed with a featured interview and a few highlights. It’s a huge departure from any kind of highlights-focused show. In many ways, it’s a nightly sports show for an audience that’s either already seen or doesn’t care about the highlights.
The new version of Fox Sports Live feels like a sports-focused late night show, especially one that’s more the wackiness and bits of Craig Ferguson or Conan O’Brien than the more straightforward comedy of Jay Leno. “
February began with FS1 airing its programming from Super Bowl 50, including Colin Cowherd, Jason Whitlock, Katie Nolan and Fox Sports Live With Jay and Dan. But the most buzz from Super Bowl week programming came during Whitlock’s show, when New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski gave Julie Stewart-Binks (now with ESPN) a lapdance.
Dan Levy wrote that it was all par for the course for Jamie Horowitz and FS1:
The problem isn’t Fox getting the most attention at the “hey, look at me” convention. The problem will be on Monday, or hell even later today, when people are looking for actual sports coverage and not the circus act FS1 has become. And really, this silly dance is fine. Well, it’s actually quite ridiculous, and I’m slightly embarrassed both for and by everyone involved, but this is exactly what we’ve grown to think Fox is all about, because this is exactly what Fox is all about!
Also in February, more developments came from the Colleen Dominguez age discrimination case.
Continuing in March, it was no surprise when we learned that FS1 was interested in hiring Skip Bayless.
One of the victims of the FS1 layoffs included an Emmy Award-winning producer.
In May, we learned that FS1 was planning to team Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock together, with the Big Lead’s Jason McIntyre serving as the moderator. We later discovered that the Cowherd/Whitlock show would air opposite the 6 p.m. ET SportsCenter.
Dan O’Toole wasn’t happy with Katie Nolan over her yearning for an earlier timeslot, which was then occupied by Dan’s Fox Sports Live.
Speaking of Katie Nolan, Garbage Time won a Sports Emmy.
The Copa America Centenario opener did well for FS1.
FS1 moved the Cowherd-Whitlock vehicle Speak for Yourself up one hour to 5 p.m. ET.
In October, FS1 ran promos saying it was the No. 1 cable sports network, but there was (naturally) a catch (related to the Chicago Cubs playing in the NL playoffs at the time).
We learned that FS1 was developing a morning show, which still hasn’t debuted nearly a year later.
Jimmy Traina attempted to watch a full day of debate shows.
“Jamie Horowitz is a guy that’s a friend, and every article he’s quoted in he mentions ‘SportsCenter’s’ failing ratings. And not one says, ‘Well how about [the Cowherd-Whitlock team-up] “Speak for Yourself,” which gets 50,000 people.’ We don’t have a single show that rates that badly.”
Without the MLB postseason, FS1’s ratings were down significantly.
In January, Colleen Dominguez and Fox settled her age discrimination lawsuit.
FS1 boasted that Undisputed was beating SportsCenter on ESPN2, while not taking First Take‘s numbers on the ESPN Mothership into account:
Fox said Undisputed averaged 122,000 on FS1 from 10 a.m. – noon ET last Thursday while SportsCenter on ESPN2 had 121,000 viewers in the same time period. Fox said it was the first time ever the show had ever beaten SportsCenter head-to-head while not noting it had moved.
What the press release doesn’t say is that on the same day in the same time slot, First Take on ESPN outdistanced both programs with 530,000 viewers, up 12% from last year’s 473,000 on the same date.
In February, Fox confirmed Ben Koo’s report that Garbage Time with Katie Nolan wouldn’t be renewed in its current format:
Garbage Time might come back, but if it does, fans of the show will likely not recognize it. Awful Announcing has learned that the show will not be renewed in its current format as the show’s contract with the network expired after the Super Bowl.
While the show is technically on hiatus and FS1 has yet to announce a decision, multiple sources have confirmed the network does not plan to bring back the show, at least in its original format.
It was announced that Fox Sports Live with Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole would be canceled, and that the duo would be leaving FS1. They eventually went back to TSN in Canada.
Ratings for the Westminster Dog Show fell.
We began hearing rumblings that ESPN was interested in luring Katie Nolan away from Fox.
Garbage Time signed off for good.
In March, Fox and FS1 announced they would air games from Ice Cube’s Big3 basketball league.
FS1 also became a victim of cord cutting and lost more subscribers than ESPN.
In April, an ESPN exec accused Jamie Horowitz of taking a cheap shot at SportsCenter‘s ratings.
Over to May, FS1 gave LaVar Ball many appearances and mentions, just like ESPN did.
FS1’s morning show with Nick Wright and Cris Carter was officially announced to debut in September.
FS1’s primetime ratings took a hit.
FS1’s history has been turbulent especially during the Jamie Horowitz era. The network launched with lots of promise and hope, but as ratings and reality have set in, it’s led to several moves that could leave its digital arm paying the price for many years to come.
In the meantime, Embrace Debate 2.0 continues without the man who implemented it and we’ll see if FS1 can become a true competitor to ESPN and give the Worldwide Leader a run for its money.