MBPT Spotlight: FS1 Begins Third Year With Lots of Momentum

Fox Sports 1 recently celebrated its second birthday, and execs overseeing the network believe it is right where they projected it would be based on the assorted metrics necessary for long-term success.

"We're at least where we wanted to be, if not ahead of many of our goals," says Eric Shanks, president, COO and executive producer of Fox Sports. "On a lot of metrics, we are have surpassed our targets."

After a relatively quiet first year, FS1 ramped up its live programming in its second year, adding the MLB Division and League Championship Series games; U.S. Open and other USGA Championships; the FIFA Women's World Cup; NASCAR Sprint Cup races; and more recently Bundesliga soccer.

The network increased the number of live events it televised in its second year compared to its first year by 17% — to 779 from 664.

“It all starts with live events, because that’s what sports fans want to watch,” Shanks says. “In its first year, FS1 had exclusive UFC live events and it provided the network with some of its best ratings. But in our second year, we added so much more live programming, and that will continue with a much broader college football schedule of telecasts this fall.”

Shanks believes with all the live events now in place on FS1, there will be “tremendous momentum” moving forward. Part of that will be the ability to have the ears of marketers and their media agencies when it comes to selling advertising. “What’s really nice is that now we are in all the conversations when clients are looking to buy live sports,” he says.

FS1 viewership was up about 40% on a total day basis and up 38% in primetime between its first anniversary on Aug. 17, 2014 and its second anniversary a year later, according to Nielsen data. On a percentage basis, that’s better growth than ESPN, ESPN2 and NBCSN.

Among just live events telecasts, FSI in its second year was up 54% in viewers over its first year, and is now drawing more viewers to live events than ESPN2 or NBCSN.

The major contributor of that was its live telecasts of the Women’s World Cup. During a nearly two-month period in which it televised both Women’s World Cup matches and U.S. Open golf, FSI jumped from fourth among the big national all-sports cable networks to second in primetime viewership. During the period from June 1 through July 26, ESPN was the leader in primetime viewership, averaging 950,000 nightly, followed by FS1 with 515,000. NBCSN was next with 388,000 viewers, followed by ESPN2 with 303,000 viewers. Fox’s percentage of increase during that period was 132%, NBCSN was up 42%, ESPN was down 22% and ESPN2 was down 26%.

All of FS1’s Top 10 most-watched events and 16 of its Top 20 were televised over the past year.

Among the FS1 “milestones” over the past year:
• Broke 5 million viewers for the first time with its telecast of the St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Francisco Giants NLCS Game 4 last October, pulling in 5.1 million viewers. It also drew 4.9 million viewers for Game 5.
• The telecast of the Women’s World Cup Soccer matchup between the U.S. and Colombia in the Round of 16 drew 4.7 million viewers. It was the most-watched soccer match on cable since the 2014 Men’s World Cup on ESPN.
• The telecast of the Women’s World Cup opening round between the U.S. and Australia drew 3.3 million viewers, making it the most-watched women’s Group Stage match in history, beating the previous record of 2.5 million who watched the U.S. vs. Denmark match in 1999 on ESPN.
• The first-ever regularly scheduled NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points race on FS1 drew 4.1 million viewers.

In addition to post-season MLB telecasts and an expanded college football schedule, FS1 will also be televising Premier Boxing Championship events later this year and will be debuting Colin Cowherd’s The Herd sports talk show.

Mike Mulvihill, senior VP of programming and research at Fox Sports, says it’s important not to look at the viewer numbers in a vacuum but to compare them to where the older all-sports networks were at age 2.

“You really need to look at where we are in our life cycle compared to where ESPN2 and NBCSN were back when they were at a comparable point in time,” he says. “We are a lot further along in drawing viewers than they were at our age.”

Comparing the second year of FS1 and looking back at the second years of ESPN2 and NBCSN, FSI did considerably better in drawing viewers.

In total day, FS1 averaged 161,000 viewers in Year 2, compared to the 94,000 that NBCSN averaged in its second year and the 25,000 that ESPN2 averaged. In primetime, FSI averaged 389,000 viewers in its second year, compared to 276,000 for NBCSN and 41,000 for ESPN2.

Mulvihill says it takes time for any network to build a consistent daily and nightly audience, but he sees FS1 as “becoming more of a habit” for many viewers. He says because ESPN has been around for so long, a fair comparison of where it stands today compared to FS1 can’t be made. However he adds, “If marketers compare us to ESPN2 and NBCSN based on our live event viewership, I think we do very well.”

Shanks also says that when Fox Sports sells advertising, it is not just selling FS1 but most times FS1 is part of major packages. “We’re believers in our entire sports portfolio – Fox broadcast network, our regional sports networks and FS1,” he says.

Shanks says all the sports FS1 has live rights deals to televise will be on the air going forward so the network will now will now be looking to expand its non-live sports programming. “We bringing in new executives and producers to bolster that area of our coverage,” he says.

In that regard, the network recently hired Charlie Dixon to the newly created position of executive VP of content.  He’s a former NBC and ESPN executive. While at ESPN he codeveloped shows like Olbermann, Numbers Never Lie and Colin Cowherd’s New Football Show.