FS1’s February shift from sports highlights show Fox Sports Live 2.0 to sports-focused late night comedy show Fox Sports Live With Jay And Dan (otherwise known as Fox Sports Live 3.0, which returns Tuesday night after a week off the air thanks to vacations) attracted plenty of attention, especially for how it fits in with Fox Sports National Networks president Jamie Horowitz’s stance (which has some merit to it) that traditional highlights shows are dying. The shows both revolve around Canadian anchors Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, but the 2.0 edition was them hosting a reasonably-standard sports highlights show with some humo(u)r, while the new one is much more focused on them and their jokes, and it has plenty of merit from a critical standpoint. Horowitz has discussed how he sees opinion and personality as the crucial way to attract viewers, and said this will lead to the new FSL becoming even less highlights-focused over time. Have the ratings proved him right through two months of the new show, though? Well, yes and no.

A strict apples-to-apples comparison of four weeks of Monday through Friday ratings for both FSL 2.0 (January 25 through February 19) and the first showing of FSL 3.0 (March 11 through April 8; it’s replayed several times most nights) doesn’t look so good for Fox Sports Live With Jay And Dan, which averaged 55,208 viewers (23,615 in the key advertising demo of adults 18-49) compared to FSL 2.0’s 77,801 (30,277 in the demo). However, the FSL 2.0 numbers are massively boosted by shows on February 18 and 19, which followed big NASCAR events (the Duel at Daytona and a Craftsman Series Truck Race respectively) and pulled in 875,000 and 216,000 viewers respectively. If those two shows are omitted from the average, it drops to around 60,100 viewers, much more in line with FSL 3.0’s numbers. Keep in mind too that the new show is more DVR-friendly (thanks to its shorter duration, its lesser highlights-of-the-night focus, and its consistent 30-minute runtime) and is also rebroadcast several times most nights, and those numbers aren’t considered here.

Moreover, the best two other FSL 2.0 shows from that time period were both on Fridays, and drew 140,000 (February 5) and 100,000 (February 12) viewers. FSL 3.0 has broken the 100,000 barrier on four separate occasions and on various days of the week, and its lows also don’t seem as low. Its worst three showings were March 29 (22,000), March 14 (37,000) and March 24 (37,000), while FSL 2.0 had a 13,000 (January 28), a 21,000 (January 27), a 24,000 (February 8), a 25,000 (February 15) and a 28,000 (February 1).

Some of this may be about the different durations. FSL 3.0 is consistently a half-hour show, while FSL 2.0 had a wide range of runtimes from 15 to 85 minutes over the time period considered, but was typically close to an hour. If viewers tuned in for the first part of FSL 2.0 but then left, that counts against the average. Still, that’s another point in favor of the new half-hour format; it appears to be able to attract and retain at least a decent number of viewers more effectively than the old show, which had numerous nights where it was airing to an exceptionally small audience.

It’s also perhaps impressive that FSL 3.0 is finding a decent amount of success despite constant odd scheduling decisions, such as moving its slot around (which happened with the old show too), frequently preempting it for other programming, airing “best of” episodes after less than two months of shows, and having days and weeks where it’s not on the schedule at all (like last week, thanks to that aforementioned vacation for the anchors). This is not something that Fox is heavily promoting, either, and yet, it’s still pulling almost as many viewers as the 57,000 average for Colin “Billboard” Cowherd’s “The Herd.” On the glass-half-empty side, its overall ratings are slightly down from FSL 2.0, even if those two 2.0 shows with outstanding live lead-ins are removed. On the glass-half-full side, it’s kept almost that whole audience with a format that’s presumably much less expensive.

From a cost standpoint, FSL 3.0 would seem to make much more sense for Fox. It’s a smaller set (so less cameras and audio setups) for a show running for less time (so less time to pay people for) with a smaller cast (rather than having Jay and/or Dan regularly discuss things with a variety of Fox sport-specific insiders over the course of the show, the on-screen talent is just Jay and Dan and one guest each night, and that guest often isn’t from Fox).  We don’t know the exact financials, but from the outside, this would seem to be a much cheaper show to do. Given that they’re still pulling nearly the same audience as the more expensive FSL 2.0, this would seem to be a net win for FS1.

However, these numbers still aren’t big, and they illustrate that the story is largely the same with FSL 3.0 as it was with the previous editions; this show is only going to pull a giant audience on days where it has a solid live sports event leading in. That (along with the not-terribly-impressive numbers for Cowherd et al) suggests that Horowitz’s “If you have personalities, they will come” strategy isn’t quite right. The reality is more “If you have big live sports events, they will come.”

One positive is that Jay and Dan are showing those personalities don’t all need to be hot-take artists, though. There’s also room for a humo(u)r show willing to poke fun at the world of sports, sometimes even at coworkers on their own network, and that’s a refreshing change from much of the other stuff FS1 has done. FSL 3.0 looks like more of a modest success than a stunning one at this point, but it’s one that seems to be working not too badly for FS1 (especially when you consider the costs versus those of its predecessor). If they’re able to keep growing the ratings and give it better live lead-ins, it might be a format that sticks around for a while.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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