Pierce: Can Super Bowl help Fox Sports 1 and the Utes?
Sports on TV • Network hopes Super Bowl programming will create return viewers
Published: January 14, 2014 11:17PM
Updated: January 14, 2014 11:08PM
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Scott D. Pierce

Could the fact that Fox is airing the Super Bowl help bring more people to their televisions to watch Utah football and basketball games?

That’s what the folks at Fox are hoping … in a rather indirect way.

As part of the Pac-12’s deal with Fox, the Utes appear frequently on Fox Sports 1. That channel — launched in August in place of Speed — is available in about 90 million homes, which is great.

The ratings, however, have been disappointing. Downright disastrous at times.

On Monday, Jan. 6, just 26,000 people tuned in to FS1’s flagship studio show, “Fox Sports Live,” while 25 million were watching the BCS championship game on ESPN. Far worse, on Tuesday, Jan. 7, just 7,000 people tuned in to “Fox Sports Live.”

That’s 7,000 nationally. An average of 140 people per state.

There’s no way to spin that other than disastrous.

Those are extreme examples. Fox Sports 1 can and does do better at times, including when 2.1 million tuned in to see the Oregon-Oregon State football game back in November. And “Fox Sports Live” has attracted viewership in the six figures when it follows live sporting events that draw a decent crowd.

But the numbers have, for the most part, been disheartening. Which is one of the reasons Fox is sparing no expense on its coverage of the upcoming Super Bowl, building a three-story studio in Times Square as a home base and planning about 90 hours of coverage on Fox and FS1.

“We kind of look at the Super Bowl week, SpeedWeek ... and then the start of baseball season as really kind of a month that really kind of starts the next phase of live events on FOX Sports 1,” said Fox Sports president Eric Shanks. “Clearly, because we’re the rights holder for the [Super Bowl], we have unprecedented access that other networks don’t have. We’re going to spend more time with the teams. We’re going to spend more time with the coaches. We’re going to be covering things like Media Day. We’re going to have the presence in Times Square.”

And FS1 will have hours and hours of coverage every day in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. If you can’t get enough NFL, it will be the place to turn.

“I think it’s a chance for us to show off some solid programming,” Shanks said. Including “Fox Super Bowl Daily” twice a day; an opening ceremony patterned after the Olympics and endless chatter from Fox’s NFL team.

The hope is that all that Super Bowl programming will drive viewers to Fox Sports 1, and that they’ll stay. Or, at the very least, that they’ll find FS1 in their cable/satellite channel lineup and regularly return.

There are a lot of casual fans out there who flip from sports channel to sports channel, but they aren’t yet in the habit of flipping to FS1.

If they do, they may come across a Utah football or basketball game and stick around. Which would be good for Utah, good for the Pac-12 and good for FS1.

Shanks, however, wasn’t willing to label this a “relaunch” of his still-struggling sports channel.

“I think it’s just kind of the next phase that we had planned,” he said. “ I think it’s a good chance for people to check it out, especially given the fact that we are doing a ton of marketing.

“So I think we’ve always viewed this as kind of a little bit of a second coming out party.”

Whatever he calls it, Fox better hope it works.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.