ESPN ratings down as Fox Sports 1 prepares for launch
July 9, 2013
Sports Business Daily reports that ESPN ratings averaged 1.3 million viewers in prime time during the Second Quarter of this year. The ratings reveal a substantial drop in ratings from the same time last year.
Earlier this year, ESPN laid off a portion of its staff and ESPN’s parent company, Disney, was downgraded by Goldman Sachs. According to Bloomberg, ESPN provides 45 percent of Disney operating income. ESPN faces rising sports broadcasting rights fees and the emergence of a new competitor in Fox Sports 1. It’s anticipated that ESPN will now be competing for rights fees with FS1 which will drive up prices. Notably, ESPN’s NBA and NASCAR rights fees are up next year. We all know that the UFC signed a 7 year contract with Fox in 2011. While analysts have looked down on Disney stock, analysts have been bullish on 21st Century Fox due in part to the launch of Fox Sports 1.
Looking at the numbers, ESPN is down 32% in ratings from 2012 when it posted viewership of almost a 2 million viewer average in primetime (which was up from 2011 (1.6 million)). The Sports Business Daily indicates that this year’s decrease may have been due to the NBA Playoff teams in the Western Conference Finals (Spurs-Grizzlies). Last year, ESPN had the rights to the Eastern Conference Finals when it was the Heat-Celtics in an exciting 7 game series. This year, the Spurs swept Memphis.
Conversely, NBC Sports Network saw an increase from the same time last year. It received an average of 619,000 in 2013 up from 530,000 in 2012. This was due to the huge popularity of the NHL playoffs.
Its also worthy to note, that Speed TV (which will convert to FS1 in August) saw a decrease in ratings. In 2013, it received 206,000 viewers in Q2 but received 226,000 viewers in 2012. It still ranked fourth among cable sports networks in terms of prime time ratings for Q2.
Fuel TV ranked second to last (right before Fox Soccer) in cable sports network prime time viewership for Q2 with an increase from 2012. This year it received a prime time average of 45,000 viewers from 39,000 last year.
Based on the internal and external struggles of ESPN, its a good time for Fox Sports 1 to launch. We are starting to see subtle signs that ESPN is drawing back on its UFC coverage. Was there an ESPN “car wash” for this event? Weidman appeared on the Jim Rome Show but not on any ESPN outlets that one can remember pre-UFC 162. There was no substantial coverage of the Weidman-Silva fight especially since it was such a shocking upset. On Monday, ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption co-host Michael Wilbon criticized the UFC for not allowing ESPN to air the finish of the fight so that they could discuss it on PTI. To ESPN’s credit, Chris Weidman was scheduled to make an appearance on ESPN News on Tuesday night. Of course, that’s ESPN News. All of this can be just scrutinizing one event too much but we shall see how the UFC is covered by ESPN once it goes full time on FS1.