Fox Sports 1 came out of the gate strong this weekend. The new cable challenger to ESPN averaged 1.71 million viewers in prime time Saturday night, thanks to its UFC Fight Night telecast, according to Nielsen ratings provided by Fox. That was a 10-fold increase compared to the 141,000 viewers Speed, Fox Soccer and Fuel TV combined previously delivered in the same slot a year ago, according to Fox.
While this is a much better showing than the launch of other cable sports networks -- with NBC Sports Network averaging just 62,00 viewers on a total-day basis when it launched in January 2012 -- FS1 has a ways to go to catch up with ESPN.
Driven by viewers tuning in to watch Chael Sonnen defeat Shogun Rua in the main event of the UFC card, Fox Sports 1 topped the Big Four broadcasters among adults 18-49, adults 18-34, men 18-49 and men 18-34, Fox said. Fox Sports 1's UFC telecast averaged 1.78 million viewers and a 1.3 rating and Fox said that beat the average of eight UFC Fight Nights on FX by 38%. One night later, ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball telecast of the New York Yankees beating the Boston Red Sox 9-6 averaged a 2.5 overnight rating, the highest Sunday Night Baseball telecast of the 2013 season.
Fox Sports boss David Hill has called the matchup between the new late night "Fox Sports Live" highlight show and ESPN's longtime "SportsCenter" franchise one of the key battlegrounds in the new sports cable war. The first airing of "Fox Sports Live," anchored by Canadian hosts Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole, Saturday night drew 476,000 total viewers compared and 0.2 rating compared with a 0.6 rating for ESPN's "SportsCenter." But on Sunday night, ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys said "Fox Sports Live" drew only a 0.1 overnight rating vs.1.6 for "SportsCenter."
The new Fox Sports 1 continues its rollout Monday afternoon with the debut of the new "Fox Football Daily" and Regis Philbin's "Crowd Goes Wild." Thanks to a flurry of last minute deals, Fox Sports 1 achieved its distribution goal of 90 million but not at the higher subscriber fees it was seeking compared to Speed. The new network launched with a blue-chip roster of initial advertisers including: automotive companies Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and Toyota; beverage giant Pepsi; fast food chain Taco Bell; and tech giants Microsoft and Samsung.