Prior to the launch of Fox Sports 1 nearly three years ago, Fox Sports executives announced they were creating a late-night news and highlight show in an attempt to siphon viewers from ESPN’s SportsCenter. The thesis at the time, as laid out by executives, was that Fox Sports 1 would make a significant investment in news to provide around-the-clock coverage. It was a welcome message for those viewers who wanted competition in the sports news and highlight space, and the hope was Fox Sports Live—the show created to take on SportsCenter—would raise everyone's game in sports television.
"There is a baseline news investment that you have to have to be credible in a 24/7 environment," Fox Sports president Eric Shanks told SI.com in March 2013. "We want this to be a place where people can fulfill their needs for highlights. It's a news-based show, but it is not two people sitting at a desk reading highlights and then breaking down the X's and O's.”
Fox Sports Live debuted with the launch of the network, on Aug. 17, 2013, following the conclusion of its first UFC Fight Night telecast. The 77-minute premiere (10:43 p.m. to midnight) telecast averaged 476,000 viewers and registered an overnight rating of 0.3 (only three-tenths of a point below the 0.6 earned by that night's 11 p.m. edition of SportsCenter).
But the show soon struggled to find an audience as it went through various evolutions and talent changes over the past two years. Initially, FSL went heavy on having former athletes weigh in on the sports of the day. The show did gain some momentum in April 2015 when Fox announced it had a 73% viewership increase in the first quarter of '15 over '14, with an average audience of 149,000 viewers per night for the show’s first hour and an uptick in the key 18-to-49 demo. While that was significantly fewer viewers than SportsCenter, which has had declining ratings, it was a nice story for Fox.
Alas, that momentum was short-lived.
SI.com has learned Fox Sports is ending Fox Sports Live as viewers know it now. It is not clear when the final episode of this iteration of the show will end, but given Fox Sports National Networks president Jamie Horowitz and executive vice president of content for FS1 Charlie Dixon are summa cum laude graduates of Opinion Over All University, one can presume more takes (thirsty and otherwise) are coming to Fox Sports 1’s late-night airwaves sooner than later. A Fox Sports spokesperson declined comment on any specific changes, but an industry source said the new show will have little in the way of news and reporting.
The final ratings story for Fox Sports Live was not a great one and was the likely catalyst for the changes. The show was averaging 87,000 viewers (a weighted average based on the telecast duration) for all first-run Fox Sports Live telecasts on FS1 for the four weeks ending Jan. 24, according to Sports TV Ratings, which ran the analysis for SI.com. The site used all the Fox Sports Live episodes from that time frame, sorted them by start time and averaged the shows that started from around 10:00 p.m. ET to midnight. Sports TV Ratings noted that a single post-UFC telecast on Jan. 17 had a dramatic impact on the average; if you take that telecast out, both the weighted and simple averages were 61,000 viewers.
What does FSL getting changed mean for Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, the entertaining hosting duo who came to the network three years ago after enjoying a fantastic run in Canada as that country’s most popular on-air sportscaster duo? Fans of the two broadcasters should not be worried too much: They are under contract, well-liked by Shanks and will likely have a major role on whatever Fox Sports Live becomes. It's unclear what will happen to other Fox Sports Live on-air staffers, but hopefully they will be placed elsewhere at the network.
Last May, Shanks told SI.com he was pleased with Onrait and O’Toole and wanted them to continue at the network in some form. “I think they are unique voices and personalities and solid at what they do," Shanks said. "One of the hardest things to do in this business is to create chemistry, and they have it built in. So whatever the format of that show is, Jay and Dan are pros, they like each other and it comes through.”