FS1 Gets Its First At Bat As Baseball’s Main Home

Fox Sports 1 threw out the first pitch on its expansive Major League Baseball package last week, as well as its TV Everywhere play with the national pastime.

The rookie national sports network, which bowed last August, is looking to grow sampling and ratings as it becomes Fox Sports’ primary MLB home. While the Fox broadcast network will televise a dozen regular-season contests, the All-Star Game and the World Series, most of the programmer’s national hardball action will appear on FS1.

Under Fox’s new eight-year, $4.2 billion rights deal with MLB, FS1 will present 40 regular-season games, which started with the April 5 twin bill of Minnesota-Cleveland and San Francisco-Los Angeles Dodgers, followed by a large postseason presence that will include a pair of Division Series (sans a pair of games on MLB Network) and a League Championship Series.

FSI last week debuted MLB Whiparound, its live look-in show hosted by Chris Myers, and will bow America’s Pregame, which will set up the night’s sports action, including plenty of MLB fare, on April 7. In addition to its own games, highlights and news coverage, David Nathanson, general manager and chief operating officer of Fox Sports 1 and FS2, said that FS1 will also offer programming from MLB Productions.

“Adding America’s pastime to the network, in terms of 40-regular season [games] and MLB Whiparound are the start of great things to come,” Nathanson said. “We will have more baseball than any other multisports network and are looking forward to owning Saturdays.”

Nathanson said he believes baseball’s bow, as well as the infusion of U.S. Open Golf and FIFA World Cup action next year, will bring more and new eyeballs to the network.

“It’s still early days, but we’ve been a little light in the Northeast [in terms of viewership]; baseball will certainly help with that,” Nathanson said, alluding to the sports’ popularity among fans stretching from Boston, New York and Philadelphia down to the nation’s capital. “As we add more programming, including MLB, more people will sample the network and audiences will follow.”

Madison Avenue certainly has. A Fox Sports spokesman noted that advertising for the regular season is “virtually sold out” and that MLB Whiparound has been “incredibly well-received, and advertisers are looking to get more involved with it. There is high demand for baseball.”

Bill Wanger, executive vice president of programming, research and content strategy at Fox Sports, explained that the programmer’s schedule was assembled in a three-step process, with a dozen contests first selected for Fox’s broadcast window — eight consecutive weeks of primetime Saturdays, beginning in late May, and four afternoon games in September.

Then, there are “co-exist” contests that will air both on FS1 and on regional sports networks in the participating clubs’ DMAs, like last Saturday’s meeting between the Dodgers (SportsNet LA) and the Giants (Comcast SportsNet Bay Area). Teams can’t appear across the Fox and FS1 coexist games more than eight times.

Finally, 26 “regional elevate” games will appear exclusively on FS1. This schedule is drawn from games that were originally slated for Fox-owned regional sports networks. For instance, the April 5 contest pitting the Twins (Fox Sports North) and Indians (Sports Time Ohio) was elevated to the national platform.

“We’re going to get the home market audience for those games,” Wanger said. “That’s going to help.”

Digitally, Fox Sports Go, the programmer’s authenticated streaming service, will simulcast its national MLB regular-season and playoff schedules for the first time.

Nathanson shied away from making any predictions about MLB usage on Fox Sports Go. “This is the first time with MLB,” he said. “I’m not going to make any predictions for the numbers this year, but Fox Sports Go has been successful with the Super Bowl and other events. People are expecting to find their sports on multiple platforms, so it’s par for the course.”

Currently, Fox Sports Go is available to some 30 million authenticated Comcast, Cablevision, AT&T U-verse, Suddenlink, WOW! and Midcontinent subscribers, about one-third of FS1’s customer base. Fox Sports Go also has deals with Time Warner Cable and Cox, and the programmer has said it’s hopeful the service will launch in close to another 20 million homes by the All-Star break.

Asked if having MLB games will serve to expand its streaming roster, Nathanson said: “The appeal of baseball may prompt some distributors to sign up more quickly. Others will include [Fox Sports Go] as part of broader affiliate negotiations.”