Here’s something we’ve heard many times before – Fox Sports 1 (FS1) is going to build an alternative to ESPN.
Only this time, they’re using recycled hot take artists from ESPN to try to do it.
Sounds like a great strategy, no?
When FS1 launched in August 2013 – that was its mission statement, to provide sports fans something different, something more fun, something less obnoxious than some of ESPN’s more tiresome programming habits. A true alternative.
Dr. Frankenstein himself, Jamie Horowitz, sat down with Richard Sandomir of the New York Times to talk about the hard left turn FS1 is making towards the dark side and one quote in particular stood out.
The Times revealed that the new Jason Whitlock-Colin Cowherd debate show will debut on June 13th, but the more interesting detail is what time it will air – 6 PM ET – in direct competition with the early evening SportsCenter hosted by Lindsay Czarniak. Like pretty much everything else that has come and gone at FS1, Horowitz calls it an “alternative” to ESPN.
How many shows Mr. Horowitz will develop at FS1 remains to be seen, but the goal is to find long-running hits like “First Take” and ESPN2’s “Pardon the Interruption,” which works because of the friendly alchemy between Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, who were fellow columnists at The Washington Post for years.
Mr. Horowitz’s acumen will be tested when Mr. Bayless comes aboard — Mr. Horowitz declined to discuss him or plans for his show until Mr. Bayless officially leaves ESPN — and in his latest project: teaming Mr. Cowherd and Mr. Whitlock in “Speak for Yourself,” a daily show starting June 13 to compete against “SportsCenter” at 6 p.m. Eastern time.
“It’s an alternative at 6 for ‘SportsCenter’ fans,” Mr. Horowitz said emphatically.
Here’s the rub – how can you really say you’re building an alternative to anything at ESPN by using former ESPN talking heads? The same network that once used a Tebow Jar to make fun of Skip Bayless and First Take not only hired the brainchild behind First Take but then they went and HIRED SKIP BAYLESS. Is it too late to get rid of all these ex-ESPN guys and just bring back Georgie Thompson?
FS1 has tried to be an alternative to ESPN for multiple years now and largely failed. They tried to compete with College GameDay on Saturday mornings and lost 25-1 in the ratings. They tried to compete with the 11 PM ET SportsCenter with Fox Sports Live and it’s had more retoolings and relaunches that it might as well be Extreme Makeover: Sports Edition.
During the last week of April, FS1 aired a potpourri of events with mediocre ratings at 6 PM ET against SportsCenter like American Grit (66k viewers), World Poker Tour (60k), and the NHRA (54k). At the same time, ESPN’s 6 PM SportsCenter drew an average audience of 673,000 viewers. Starting out, the Whitlock-Cowherd show is looking at a 10-1 ratings deficit in their “competition” with SportsCenter.
And so far, Cowherd and Whitlock haven’t proven they can draw a lot of viewers to FS1. During the same week, The Herd drew an average of 61,000 viewers while the late afternoon replay of Cowherd’s talk show averaged a paltry 37,000 viewers. Whitlock’s test run at a studio show during Super Bowl week drew audiences barely over 30,000 viewers. NASCAR Race Hub is still far and away FS1’s most successful studio show, blowing everything else on the network out of the water.
Horowitz also gives more unintentionally ironic quotes about trying to build FS1 on the shifting sand of opinion, but having it be “real” and “honest.” The next superstar of Embrace Debate 2.0 at FS1 will be the person who famously lied about his high school basketball career.
What does FS1 really hope to achieve here? What would deem this move a success? Even if by some miracle Whitlock and Francesa are able to cut into ESPN’s massive lead over FS1 in that timeslot, they’ll still be exponentially behind Bristol. Is that really worth all the millions of dollars they’re spending on this high-priced talent and all the capital they’ll lose by alienating people in the process?