Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports Group’s new soccer coverage got off to strong ratings starts last week. FS1, which bowed in 90 million homes on Aug. 17, enjoyed a big opening night with its coverage of a Ultimate Fighting Championship card that served as a leadin for the debut of its news program, Fox Sports Live.
And NBC’s first presentation of matches from England’s top soccer circuit, the Barclays Premier League, set stateside viewership records for an opening weekend.
Launching from the channel position previously held by Speed, Fox Sports 1 scored a 1.33 household rating and 1.71 million viewers in primetime (Eastern time zone) on Aug. 17, according to Nielsen data.
Fox said that performance marked a tenfold jump over the combined delivery of 141,000 for Speed; Fuel TV, which also relaunched on Aug. 17 as Fox Sports 2; and Fox Soccer (slated to become FXX and bow in 72 million homes on Sept. 2) on the comparable night in 2012.
FS1’s opening primetime slate was driven by UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Sonnen, which pinned a 1.38 rating and 1.78 million viewers. The card surpassed the rating (0.93) and audience (1.29 million) averages of eight UFC on FX Fight Night telecasts by 49% and 38%, respectively.
Fox Sports Live’s inaugural showing on Aug. 17 from 10:43 p.m. until midnight averaged 476,000 viewers, 137% over Speed’s third-quarter 2012 average of 201,000 viewers in the time period.
As expected, the news program’s numbers dipped after that opening. After benefiting from the UFC lead-in, Fox Sports Live averaged 120,000 in its primary 11 p.m. time slot on Sunday Aug. 18; 82,000 on Aug. 19; and 61,000 on Aug. 20; and 66,000 on Aug. 21.
Regis Philbin’s ballyhooed Crowd Goes Wild in the 5 p.m. hour drew just 74,000 watchers to its Monday, Aug. 19, debut, 44,000 on Aug. 20 and 36,000 on Aug. 21.
Horizon Media senior vice president, director of research Brad Adgate likened FS1’s performance to the early days of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN after its conversion from the 80 million-home Discovery Health in January 2011.
“Even with wide distribution, it’s difficult to gain traction, no matter who your corporate parent,” Adgate said. “Fox knows this is not going to happen overnight,” adding that live events like UFC and college football will bring viewers/sampling to the service.
NBC Sports Group — in the first of a three-year, $250 million rights deal for the Premier League — tallied 3.4 million watchers across four matches on NBC Sports Network, a pair on mun2 and a single contest on NBC on Aug. 17-18. That was the most for a Premier League opening weekend in the U.S.
The five English-language games on NBC and NBCSN garnered 3.2 million viewers — a 52% jump from the 2.1 million total for the five games televised by the previous right-sholders, Fox Soccer and ESPN2, last year.
NBC Sports Group’s Nielsen table was topped by the 792,000 for NBC’s presentation of Manchester United- Swansea City on Aug.17. The four matches on NBCSN on Aug. 17-18 averaged 356,000 viewers, 43% more than the matches on Fox Soccer and ESPN2 a year ago.
NBC’s Premier League Extra Time gambit, however, was off sides in some cases. The package of ad hoc channels covered four matches in the busy 10 a.m. (ET) window, when five games were played concurrently, with NBCSN and mun2 airing the fifth. Reports indicate Cablevision Systems presented the matches in the standard-definition format but not in high definition, while Comcast offered the games on its Xfinity on-demand service. However, users were unable to toggle between the matches in real time on the Comcast service, so switching between games brought the user back to the start of a match.
Comcast said it was working on bringing join-in-progress functionality to Premier League fans in the near future.
Sports TV’s latest entries — Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports Group’s Barclays Premier League coverage — both proved to be strong starters.