Skip Bayless’ new FS1 debate show is everything you would expect it to be – a supersized clone of First Take. The show looks like First Take, sounds like First Take, is formatted like First Take… it’s the Mecha Godzilla compared to… well, the original Godzilla. It’s the culmination of Jamie Horowitz’s recreation of FS1 into the Embrace Debate 2.0 network and Bayless’ new show is at the center of it alongside other hot takers at FS1.

Fox and Horowitz are paying Bayless several million dollars a year to finally bring some consistent viewership and notoriety to FS1 after its original programming has stopped and started and sputtered along in the first three years of the sports cable network.  And from the start, the viewership totals will be closely scrutinized as the fight for control of the narrative is already underway.

There’s narrative and then there’s numbers, though.  And though we just have a couple of episodes of data points to analyze, already a fascinating development has occurred.

With the numbers published by SportsTVRatings, we can see that Day 1 of Skip and Shannon Undisputed reached an impressive debut audience of 125,000 viewers from 9:30-12 ET. Even though it was crushed by First Take in the embrace debate sweepstakes as the ESPN2 original drew 354,000, this is still a great number for a studio show on FS1.  During the same timeslot a week earlier, FS1 was drawing 42k and 45k for NHRA and Fox CFB Kickoff replays.  To see a talking heads show on a cable network not named ESPN draw six figures in viewership is quite the feather in the cap.  And it’s something Cowherd, Whitlock, Francesa, Beadle, Patrick, and a number of other big names in sports media have not been able to do on a consistent basis over the years.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the viewership total came cratering back to earth for Day 2 of Skip and Shannon Undisputed.

The audience for FS1’s Bayless-centric programming dropped from 125,000 viewers on Tuesday to just 68,000 viewers on Wednesday – a 45% drop and more in line with the network’s other studio programming.  In fact, on Wednesday, Bayless and Sharpe were defeated 2-1 in viewership by FS1’s own NASCAR Race Hub, which drew 136k viewers.  The gap to First Take also widened drastically, with ESPN2 defeating FS1 by an over 5-1 viewership margin with Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman garnering 342,000 viewers.

It’s early days for sure, but the biggest takeaway is that for Bayless and Sharpe to be a success at FS1, their long-term viewership numbers need to reflect their first day audience and not their second day audience.  That’s going to be difficult to do after the initial buzz wears off and the hype machine goes into sleep mode, but not necessarily impossible.

Nevertheless, if Bayless’ audience consistently hovers around the 60,000 – 70,000 mark in the long-term, then Fox Sports will have to ask some very tough questions of themselves.  Maybe they can start with, “Is it worth it to pay Skip Bayless over $5 million a year to draw fewer viewers than a 3 AM replay of NFL Total Access?”

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