Fox scores big with noon college football window
Five years ago, Fox was an afterthought when it came to college football. It controlled just 6% of the college football audience with a spotty selection of Big 12, Pac-12 and Conference USA games on Fox and FS1.
This year, as college football’s regular season wraps up, Fox still isn’t the biggest media company when it comes to college football. But on the strength of its strategy of scheduling its best games in the noon ET window — and trading out Conference USA for the Big Ten — it has become a significant player. In 2019, it controlled 21% of the college football audience.
“We’re pleasantly surprised,” said Fox Sports President Mark Silverman. “We’re ahead of where we thought we’d be.”
Fox reported a 15% ratings jump for its college football Saturdays.
The growth primarily has come through that noon window, which Fox executives say has established itself as the third major college football window on Saturdays alongside CBS’s late afternoon SEC game and ABC’s prime-time game. Fox says its noon window averaged a 3.2 rating, which is second only to CBS’s SEC window.
“We wanted to establish an identity in college football,” said Mike Mulvihill, executive vice president and head of strategy and analytics for Fox Sports. “Now, we have an identity.”
Fox’s decision to focus on the noon window largely is a function of its Big Ten contract, which requires that many of its games — like the marquee Ohio State-Michigan game — be played at noon.
Fox took what Mulvihill described as a “calculated risk” and pushed its strongest game of the day in the noon window. That decision allowed Fox to launch a pregame show that would lead up to that game. Fox executives said the move has been a success — so much so that they will continue it for the next several seasons.
In fact, Silverman said that several Pac-12 schools have expressed interest in scheduling a game in that window — which would kick off at 9 a.m. locally. That’s not likely to happen next season, but Silverman said he expects a Pac-12 home game to be in that window in two or three years.
“It would be a special event, and I think sports fans react well to special events,” Silverman said. “We would have to make it something unique.”
Ratings should continue to grow in that window, given the fact that so many games were not competitive this year. The average margin of victory in Fox’s noon games was 25 points, and only four games were one-possession games.
“If the competition can improve, that creates a lot of upside for us,” Mulvihill said.