Jamie Horowitz’s new hires have made a splash for FS1 and may even bring bigger ratings. If nothing else, he’s proven that there is an audience for Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, and Jason Whitlock no matter what some people on social media think of them. However, in the grand scheme of things, FS1 is limited simply due to its entrenched competitor.
By virtue of being not ESPN, FS1 has a ceiling whether their afternoon programming consists of Mike Francesa or Skip Bayless. The biggest reason ratings have been so poor since its inception isn’t because of the programming itself, it’s because FS1 is battling against a behemoth that has been in the game for over 30 years.
ESPN has built up a reputation with sports fans, especially casual fans, over the years as the default place to go. If you’re in a bar, the TVs aren’t showing ESPN because that’s where First Take is, they’re showing it because it’s ESPN and that’s ingrained in the national psyche. Even if SportsCenter is lagging behind and even if the concept if a highlights show is somewhat outdated in the Twitter age, people will still watch it because people flip to ESPN as a reflex. Most sports fans immediately have ESPN’s channel memorized.
While FS1 will bring some eyes over with their acquisition of Bayless and while Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock’s new show will certainly be must-watch for some, most casual fans don’t know have familiarity with names as much as the ESPN brand.
ESPN has always preached that no person is bigger than the company. That’s why they feel comfortable letting so much talent go, especially in the last few weeks. The only people who truly care that Mike Tirico is announcing Monday Night Football are a very small segment of football fans who would in all likelihood be watching anyway. The rest of the audience couldn’t care less.
ESPN has found success in that philosophy because they are the automatic place for most people to go for sports. While FS1’s ratings may improve, they’ll always have to fight against ESPN for eyeballs.