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FS1’s impact on Big East TV ratings

(Editorial Note: This is the second of three installments diving into the TV ratings for FOX Sports 1 and the Big East. To see the full TV data, head over to our Google Spreadsheet, compiled by Andrei Greska using the data from Sports Media Watch.) 

Earlier in the week we documented the positive news regarding FOX Sports 1’s basketball ratings to finish the season. That was a broad overview into the health of a network going forward. Now it’s time to look a little bit further back and determine the full effect in Year 1.

The ratings for Big East teams in 2012-’13 were decent, but nothing awe inspiring, hence my analysis last June that FS1 grossly overpaid for those rights. No current Big East team cracked the top 15 in terms of TV rankings last season, with Georgetown and Butler comprising the sole entries from the Big East.

Compared to this year, though, last season’s ratings were a gold mine. A steep drop-off was expected, but the severity seems overwhelming. Every single team did worse compared to last season.

Here is pretty chart (that includes all national TV games) to illustrate this.

Georgetown fell off the face of the map, losing almost 2/3rds of its viewers. Before we start conducting the autopsy, though. Let’s take a look at this same data in its natural format.

2012-’13

Team Games Avg. Rating Avg. Viewers
Georgetown 16 0.55 818,588
Butler 12 0.52 730,833
Marquette 18 0.34 539,316
St. John’s 14 0.23 379,867
Creighton 8 0.23 335,875
Villanova 18 0.21 297,056
Xavier 9 0.14 234,556
Providence 10 0.11 159,700
Seton Hall 7 0.10 150,286
DePaul 6 0.10 148,000

2013-’14

Team Games Avg. Rating Avg. Viewers
Georgetown 25 0.15 222,654
Butler 24 0.12 182,368
Marquette 23 0.17 241,130
St. John’s 25 0.06 102,760
Creighton 25 0.08 169,375
Villanova 26 0.15 203,731
Xavier 22 0.09 142,087
Providence 24 0.08 126,667
Seton Hall 19 0.02 51,650
DePaul 19 0.04 73,158

Here we see the biggest caveat, and something I alluded to in my previous post. While the average viewers has plummeted pretty much across the board, the number of games shown has soared.

As a group, the Big East teams had 118 games on national TV last season. That nearly doubled to 232 this year. That is the biggest difference, and just one of the reasons the per-game average is so low. It’s unheard of to have a bottom-dwelling team with a meager fan base like DePaul garner 19 national TV games. That’s more than three times what they had in 2012-’13.

The increase in the amount of games is bound to dilute the average viewer count. To get a better sense of which teams were affected the most by the transition, it would be interesting to see how the total number of viewers was affected

This is the same graph as above, only with total viewers used instead of average viewers. The results stay the same for the top-4 teams from last year, but a surprising thing happens to everyone else.

Below is another interpretation of the graph above, this time only measuring the percentage change from last season to this season.

Taking broad generalities and simplifying a myriad of numbers, here are the winners and losers from the Big East, as I see it.

Losers

Georgetown– No one lost as much as the Hoyas did with the transition. The per game viewers were down 73%, and the total viewers didn’t make up for that, losing a league high 56%. However, and this is an enormous however, it is foolish to attribute the lack of viewers simply to a change in channels. Context plays a large role. The Hoyas were a top-10 team for a chunk of last season and had two highly publicized farewell bouts with its arch-rival Syracuse that turned out to be 2 of their top 3 rated games (1.9 and 1.3 million viewers). FS1 had nothing to do with Georgetown not playing Syracuse. Not to mention they played the No. 1 team in an early season match up. Take out those three games and Georgetown loses 3.8 million viewers just like that. Add in the fact that they didn’t have a top-5 player this season and never contended for the Big East, and their precipitous drop has much more context.

Marquette– Much like the Hoyas, the Warriors were a complete disappointment compared to expectations, finishing in the middle of the conference and only two games above .500. You can’t fault FS1 for the lack of interest nationally, when most Marquette fans had tuned out by February. On a per game basis, viewers were down 55% and 37% when total viewers were factored. However, MU was the team who gained the least in terms of national exposure, going from 18 to 23 national TV games.

St. John’s– The Johnnies are a terribly difficult team to pin down when it comes to a broad overview. Yes, their ratings were down 72% on a per game basis, but they were downright bi-polar last year with a high of 1.2 million viewers on CBS and a low of 59,000 on ESPNU. The temptation of the New York market is always there, but they have yet to show they can tap into it. Nevertheless, they did take a big hit, adding 11 national TV games but losing just under 3 million viewers.

Butler– No one will attribute Butler’s downfall to FS1. This has everything to do with one man: Brad Stevens. Without Stevens, and in a transition year, they wouldn’t have gotten the red carpet treatment from ESPN and the numbers would have bottomed out organically. Still losing 75% of your audience per game can never be considered a win.

Toss ups

Villanova– Numbers wise, Villanova had the second smallest drop-off on a per-game viewer basis of all Big East teams, only losing 31% of its audience per game. Couple that with eight extra national TV games and they should be in the winner’s category, right? Maybe. The big issue here is that Villanova was unranked all of last season, but spent a majority of this season in the top-15. That normally translates into more eyeballs. So while this is merely speculation, the Wildcats would have been a much hotter commodity without FS1 this season. As it stands though, they didn’t lose much in terms of total viewers, clocking in at about a 1% loss.

Creighton– Similarly to Villanova, Creighton is difficult to paint broadly as a winner or a loser. It is true that their per game audience was down 45%, but they went from 8 national TV games to 25. That’s an unheard of jump. Their total audience was also up by about 1.5 million this season. That should make them a winner, right? Maybe. It is also true that they had one of the most fascinating players of the past decade in Doug McBuckets who was a threat to go score 40 any night, and guaranteed 25 and a couple “are you kidding me” plays each time. While the ratings would have gone up on another network, it hasn’t hampered national awareness to McDermott, as he’s swept just about every Player of the Year award. 

Winners

Providence– The Friars were the biggest winners, and it’s not even close. Their per-game audience remained relatively stable, only dropping 20% and their total audience skyrocketed a full 90% from 1.59 million to 3 million. Providence played two of the top-5 rated games on FS1 this season (BET Chamionship and vs. Kentucky), ratings that topped or would-have topped every game last season. It definitely helps that they were much improved, but this is where the full impact of FS1 will be seen in the future. Teams that are on the rise get a much bigger opportunity to make a lasting impact with so many games being shown. 

Seton Hall– The numbers weren’t great by any means, with the average per game audience down 65% and the total audience dropping 2%. So why are they a winner? They are primed to be  next year’s Providence with a strong incoming recruiting class and a solid foundation. They went from 7 national TV games last season to 19 this year. They weren’t much of a draw in those games, but will be next year. The added exposure will be tremendous. Get back to me in 2015. 

Xavier– A bit of a mixed bag here as well, but the positives clearly override the negatives. Xavier was in 13 more national TV games and had 1 million more viewers compared to last season. So while the per game audience fell 39% it was more than made up for in additional exposure. It also helped that they too were much better this season, making the NCAA Tournament.

DePaul– They were on the air nationally 19 times. End of story.

Now, the biggest asterisk to this whole analysis up to this point is that these ratings include all games, not just FS1 broadcasts. Here’s the audience breakdown by team from this season.

School FS1 BE Only FS1 Total Total
Creighton 178,267 159,048 162,600
Georgetown 159,000 131,950 222,654
Providence 134,235 133,500 126,667
Xavier 142,538 125,700 142,087
St. John’s 126,765 106,500 102,760
Marquette 131,538 112,176 241,130
Villanova 113,563 91,600 203,731
DePaul 101,364 87,067 73,158
Butler 206,200 166,154 182,368
Seton Hall 73,818 60,733 51,650

Great, more information that doesn’t mean much of anything. For a more illustrative example, let’s compare how the ratings broke down last season in match-ups pitting these 10 Big East teams against each other and compare it to this season.

(Note, I chose to exclude non-conference, non-current Big East data from this chart as schedules vary tremendously year by year, so one season won’t help us predict another one. By limiting ourselves to simply using these 10 teams we are keeping one constant, and getting a clearer picture of the effect from a channel. It’s nowhere near perfect analysis, but it’s sufficient for now. One more thing to keep in mind, which this chart doesn’t express well, is that the FS1 data is from this season, and the non-FS1 data is from 2012-’13.)

From the chart above, we can see that FS1’s average was only comparable to that of ESPNU, with ESPN and ESPN2 greatly exceeding them on a per-game basis.

One more time, though, we see that the biggest impact of FS1 on the Big East so far has been exposure. The number of national TV games played between these 10 teams  went from 12 total last year to 71 just on FS1 this year. That means a lot more viewers in sum, but not in part.  Will that ever come, no one can say for sure.

What is definite is that only 7 teams had 20 or more national TV games last season, yet 8 Big East teams alone had that many this season. The potential is huge, it’s about the execution now. 

(If you want to take a look at the FS1 and Big East data, it is broken down by team below.)

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2 Comments on “FS1’s impact on Big East TV ratings”

  1. k
    April 11, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    How do the viewer per game averages compare this year vs last just in Feb. and March?

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