The ESPN and Fox Sports battle is heating up via that modern mode of engagement:
The press release.
On Tuesday afternoon ESPN PR sent out a release highlighting First Take’s large lead over Undisputed in the morning battle for bloviated takes supremacy. The network said that First Take averaged 404,000 viewers from July 31 to August 25, dwarfing the audience for Undisputed on FS1 (129,000). (First Take airs from 10 a.m. to noon ET daily while Undisputed airs from 9:30 a.m. to noon.) Though both audiences draw far less audience episodes of Elena of Avalor (Disney Jr.) and Paw Patrol (Nick Jr.), they represent a heated battle between the two companies, especially since Skip Bayless defected from ESPN to FS1 last year.
ESPN executives have been chafed by what they believe is an effort from some at Fox Sports to paint them as left of center. They also had a brutal PR week, much of it self-inflicted, from re-assigning broadcaster Robert Lee to the arrest of Ryen Russillo to the Today Show publicity given to Doug Adler.
Heading forward, it would not be surprising to see ESPN operatives start to push a ratings narrative very heavily: On Tuesday the network sent out viewership numbers for both networks regarding Saturday’s post-fight analysis of Floyd Mayweather’s stoppage of Conor McGregor. ESPN said its post-fight coverage averaged 1,338,000 viewers, nearly four times the audience for FS1 (357,000; Fox said it drew 368,000 viewers for its post-fight coverage). Among men age 18-34, ESPN said it averaged 273,000 viewers compared to 60,000 for FS1.
The news was not all grim for Fox Sports. The sports division had a big night on Saturday. First, the pre-fight show on Fox drew 1.483 million viewers and grew from there. Fox said the network drew 2,568,000 viewers for the Mayweather-McGregor preliminary matches across Fox, Fox Deportes and FOX Sports GO. It was Fox’s most-watched boxing event in nearly two years.