Big East sees a dip in 2014-15 Fox Sports 1 ratings; Seton Hall emerges as a winner

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The final TV rating numbers are in for the 2014-15 college basketball season and it looks like Fox Sports 1 took a slight dip in its sophomore season with the Big East, although Seton Hall has emerged a winner.

As Marquette blog Paint Touches has pointed out, Fox Sports 1 and therefore the Big East look to be in the midst of a downward trend.

FS1 saw more average viewers per game in January than last season, but less in February and March than 2013-14. This appears to debunk the explanation of FS1 being a new network and people not knowing where to find Big East games.

Across the entire basketball landscape, it looks like 2014-15 TV ratings have more-or-less remain constant compared to 2013-14, though a more thorough unraveling of that data is probably required.

For the second straight season, a Seton Hall game that aired on Fox Sports 2 took home the title of the least-watched game of the season. The Monmouth game last season and the Mount St. Mary’s clash this season both recorded 1,000 viewers. Related, FS1 and FS2 combined to air all ten of the least-viewed games last season while FS2 broadcasted 10 of the 11 least-viewed games this season.

While I receive FS2 (though not in HD), it seems clear that that showing a game on that channel is close to not showing it at all, at least for college basketball.

A look at the viewers each Seton Hall game pulled this season with the exception of CBS Sports Network and locally televised (SNY, MSG, YES, etc.) games:

Sunday, Nov. 16th – Mercer (YES Network – No Data)
Friday, Nov. 21st – Nevada (CBSSN – No Data)
Sunday, Nov. 23rd – Gardner-Webb (CBSSN – No Data)
Monday, Nov. 24th – Illinois State (CBSSN – No Data)
Saturday, Nov. 29th – GW (FSN/MSG – No Data)
Tuesday, Dec. 2nd – Mount St. Mary’s (FS2 – 1,000)
Saturday, Dec. 6th – Rutgers (FSN/MSG – No Data)
Tuesday, Dec. 9th – Wichita State (ESPN2 – 284,000)
Tuesday, Dec. 18th – USF (CBSSN – No Data)
Sunday, Dec. 21st – Georgia (ESPNU – 88,000)
Sunday, Dec. 14th – Saint Peter’s (FS1 – 82,000)
Saturday, Dec. 27th – Maine (FS1 – 62,000)

Non-conference total: 517,000; 4 games on CBSSN

***Big East – All Games FS1 unless indicated***

Wednesday, Dec. 31st – St. John’s (82,000)
Saturday, Jan. 3rd – Villanova (179,000)
Saturday, Jan. 10th – Creighton (122,000)
Tuesday, Jan. 13th – Butler (139,000)
Tuesday, Jan. 22nd – DePaul (82,000)
Wednesday, Jan. 28th – Marquette (FS2 – 23,000)
Saturday, Jan. 31st – Xavier (154,000)
Tuesday, Feb. 3rd – DePaul (59,000)
Tuesday, Feb. 10th – Georgetown (63,000)
Monday, Feb. 16th – Villanova (120,000)
Saturday, Feb. 21st – St. John’s (FOX – 444,000)
Wed. March 4th – Providence (105,000)
Saturday, March 7th – Georgetown (FOX – 470,000)
Wednesday, March 11th – Marquette (135,000)

Big East Total: 2,177,000 viewers; 5 games on CBSSN not included

Season total: 2,694,000 viewers

When compared to last season’s Big East numbers (951,000 viewers; figure includes the BET), it’s indisputable that Seton Hall has emerged a winner.

  • Even factoring in just five Big East games on CBS Sports Network compared to nine last season, Seton Hall still improved their numbers. Their most-watched regular season FS1 game a year ago was against Xavier (118,000); five regular season games surpassed that number this year.
  • A big reason for the bump is Seton Hall’s two games on Fox, which saw 914,000 total viewers. I’m not sure of the total Big East games on Fox this season compared to last, but it certainly seemed like there was a greater emphasis toward getting games on the network’s flagship channel.
  • As I predicted last summer, Seton Hall did way better with their non-conference ratings in 2014-15 when compared to last season (517,000 vs. 300,000~). This doesn’t even account for four games on CBSSN and two on local TV (MSG, YES) in 2014-15. Seton Hall’s game at Wichita State saw 284,000 viewers, which nearly surpassed the entire 2013-14 non-conference season.
  • Seton Hall’s rivalry game with Rutgers registered 58,000 viewers on MSG/FSN, the exact same amount as last season when it aired on ESPNU on a Sunday night.
  • In sum, Seton Hall saw over 2,694,000 viewers this season compared to in excess of 1,251,000 last year.

Looking at the Big East Tournament, the event saw 2,295,000 viewers across all games last season compared to an even 1,600,000 this year. On the surface, that looks like a big drop off at -30%.

Exploring further, Creighton was a huge draw last season. The Jays-Providence BET final saw 702,000 viewers compared to 414,000 this year in a clash between Villanova-Xavier (40%+ ratings drop). Last year’s Creighton-Xavier semifinal game more than doubled the Seton Hall-Providence semi (366k vs. 150k) and Creighton-DePaul in the quarterfinals was the third-most watched game in the tournament a year ago at 272,000. That quarterfinal total surpasses any rating the Big East Tournament drew this season except for the final.

I’m not an expert, so I’m not sure what, if any one factor, explains the drop in average Big East viewers from 2013-14 to 2014-15, but I wouldn’t say its the product since the Big East was clearly better than a season ago and even now is rated as the 3rd-best conference by KenPom. My opinion is that the average neutral fan doesn’t flip on Fox Sports 1 to watch college basketball. The ACC and Big Ten get a lot of views on ESPN’s network and the Pac-12 gets some late-night traffic (with an assist from Bill Walton).

Further, the Big East schools simply don’t have large fan bases, so maybe these sort of numbers are to be expected. Estimated, the schools have an average 11,000 undergraduate students enrolled with DePaul (not a basketball hotbed) being the largest at 24,000 as of 2014. St. John’s (15,773) and Georgetown (17,849) are the only other two with undergrad enrollments above 15,000. This number doesn’t even come close to comparing with the Big Ten, for example, which has 14 schools that average around 45,000 enrolled students.

Correction: Georgetown has an undergrad enrollment of 7,636

Right now, the 12-year, $500 million~ deal that was signed between the Big East and Fox Sports last year is surely looking like a steal for the basketball-only conference.