Television press releases are a funny beast. They can be filled with breaking news announcements, subtle snipes at competitors, pie-in-the-sky optimism, and enough spin to cause you to collapse in a pile of your own vomit from the dizziness.
As with any form of public relations, these proclamations represent the absolute best case scenario for the party at hand and a worldview that is, shall we say, slightly slanted. Cutting through press release spin from any network is the sportswriting equivalent of competing on American Ninja Warrior.
So when a lengthy announcement touting the impressive accomplishments of the first year of Fox Sports 1 entered my inbox on Monday, I rolled up my sleeves to dive in.
What struck me first was this quote from Fox Sports head honcho Eric Shanks proclaiming this to be the most successful year in the history of Fox Sports:
“The last 12 months have been the most successful and eventful in the 20-year history of FOX Sports, with growth and success stories across all our brands,” said FOX Sports President & COO Eric Shanks. “None of our channels or digital platforms exists independently, and for the first time we are all truly working together as one. Perfect examples are coordinated theme programming initiatives like Super Bowl Week (90 hours of programming), 10 Days of Thunder (a week-long block of NASCAR, MLB, UFC and originals in May) and Red, White & Fight Week (more than 18 hours of UFC programming in July, including two live fight cards) which were supported throughout the company. There is more collaboration, creativity and resources being shared across our different groups than ever before, and my sincere thanks go out to all who have worked so hard to make that a reality.”
That’s quite the statement. It’s not really one that can be proven. But it’s quite the statement nonetheless. The case can certainly be made with the launch of Fox Sports 1 and 2 that it has been the most eventful year. But successful too? Advertisers for Fox Sports 1 that have witnessed flagging ratings might not share the same optimism as Shanks.
Furthermore, Fox Sports 1 fights back a bit at the infamous NBCSN release that touted its network as the fastest growing sports network in the last year. Fox Sports 1 claims in its announcement to be the fastest growing sports network in primetime, up 48% from where Speed Channel was a year ago.
Interestingly enough, Fox is choosing to tout “audience retention” over actual ratings when it comes to Fox Sports 1 and its flagship program, Fox Sports Live. The network claims that retention rates grew through the first year and that FS Live matches SportsCenter when it comes to holding its lead-in audience. Those are indeed important factors for any network and the hope for FS1 is that it adds major events in the next year, its overall viewership numbers will increase across the board. Progress will come a lot slower than they likely wanted or expected, though.
There’s also some curious tidbits that Fox Sports 1 chooses to brag about as their major accomplishments in the first year.
“FOX Sports 1’s prime time audience beat ESPN2 75 times.”
Doesn’t this mean that ESPN2 beat Fox Sports 1 in primetime the other 290 days out of the year? Is beating ESPN2 20% of the time really something worth bragging about? You’ve never seen Adam Dunn tout his batting average as one of his strengths.
“The FOX Sports 1 audience is more affluent, more diverse and younger than SPEED’s.”
Ouch. It wasn’t enough to kill off Speed Channel, now Fox Sports has to rub salt in the wound by taking a crack at their viewership base. That same Speed Channel viewership base that has led Fox Sports 1 to its most watched programming with NASCAR races. Perhaps Fox shouldn’t bite the hand that currently feeds it.
“New faces were introduced through national sports TV and digital channels, including Mike Garafolo, Gabe Kapler, Molly McGrath, Randy Moss, Katie Nolan, Jay Onrait, Dan O’Toole and Brian Urlacher.
New opportunities were provided to others, including Jill Arrington, Don Bell, Colleen Dominguez, Mike Hill, Joel Klatt and Charissa Thompson.”
Julie Stewart-Binks and Andy Roddick can’t get some PR love??? There’s always someone left out in the cold.
Now, there are some impressive accomplishments worth lifting up from Fox Sports this past year, but most of them have to do with the broadcast network and not the brand new cable channel. Fox posted impressive and/or growing ratings for many of their major sports properties. It always helps your bottom line to televise the Super Bowl, too.
FOX Sports continues its commitment to a strong broadcast presence for big events on FOX, making it the No. 1 broadcast sports network for 17 consecutive years. Last season was the NFL on FOX’s most-watched ever, capped off by Super Bowl XLVIII, the country’s most-watched TV show of all time. The 2013 World Series was +17% year-to-year, while the entire MLB Postseason on FOX was +26%. The 2013 Big Ten Championship Football Game was the most-watched ever, while audience for the MLB All-Star Game in July grew for the third straight year.
It was also a record-setting year for FOX Sports Regional Networks, the unmatched leader in local sports, which posted its highest-rated MLB season ever (2013), its highest-rated NBA season in nine years (2013-14) and its highest-rated NHL season in 10 years (2013-14).
Attention now turns to Year 2 for Fox Sports 1 and for the company as a whole. As we’ve chronicled throughout the past week, it’s been an up and down year for Fox Sports 1 and one that didn’t quite meet the network’s lofty expectations. However, FS1 adds plenty of major live event programming in Year 2. And my guess is that with more realistic expectations and more big events, the network will have more to crow about come next August.