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The Honeymoon Phase of the Mike Francesa-Fox Sports 1 Marriage Appears to be Over

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Mike Francesa, the popular WFAN host and TBL reader favorite, began simulcasting his radio show on Fox Sports 1 on March 24. At the time it looked like a perfect marriage since it would give Francesa a national cable slot after YES dumped him in favor of another radio simulcast, while Fox would get some relatively low-cost daytime filler for its fledgling network.

That match made in heaven scenario hasn’t quite panned out. Barely two months into the multi-year simulcast agreement, Francesa’s frustration with being preempted by other events like the Champions League or NASCAR midday practices or being moved to Fox Sports 2 is beginning to bubble over. Newsday’s Neil Best spoke with Francesa on Monday, saying there is an issue and, “I do have a high level of frustration.” Francesa has already met with Fox executives twice about the issue — Fox Sports 1 can be seen in five million New York-area homes, compared to about two million for Fox Sports 2. At the very least this is some good publicity for Fox, since it at least has some people talking about FS1.

For Francesa, this rift is about taking care of listeners used to watching his show simulcast on YES for 11 years until February. “”My concerns are my very loyal audience having the ability to see the show every day.” Granted, most people in the New York area should still be able to listen to the show in one form or another — either on radio or Internet stream — if they desperately need Francesa breaking down horse racing or talking to Joe Micheletti (seemingly) everyday in their lives. Also, in the age of digital cable/satellite is it really that difficult to find a channel?

Francesa’s ego, compared with his overall ignorance of the growing popularity of European soccer — especially the Champions League — is worth considering here. Fox already had deals in place for the Champions League — and second tier Europa League — before it agreed to simulcast Francesa’s show. Since April, there have been eight Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon’s on Fox Sports 1 with Champions League matches, and often more Europa League games on Thursday.

For Fox, the numbers simply don’t compare. The Champions League semifinals earlier this month drew 627,000 viewers for the second leg of Chelsea/Atletico Madrid, while the Real Madrid/Bayern second leg checked in with 557,000 – the first and second most-watched soccer games for FS1 in its brief history. Meanwhile, via John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal, Francesa’s largest audience on Fox Sports 1 last week was 49,000. On Fox Sports 2, Francesa drew a paltry 4,000 viewers.

The Francesa simulcast on YES worked great since it was a New York-centric show that catered to Francesa and was only interrupted by Yankees afternoon games. If Francesa wasn’t on, all the network really had to air to fill space were old replays of Yankees games or Sham Wow! informercials. This isn’t the case at Fox Sports 1, which will again have the Champions League group stage spread out on Tuesday/Wednesday for eight weeks from September through December. Figure there will also be some group stage qualifiers sprinkled onto the calendar in August, too.

Best suggests in his story that perhaps Francesa is better-suited for another local New York cable channel like MSG, but that notion was dismissed toward working on a solution with Fox. The ideal fix here would be for the two sides to work together, which in turn could help Fox Sports 2 get distributed in many New York-area homes.

Right now the only solution for Francesa is — for once — to swallow his pride and realize he’s not the biggest fish (metaphorically speaking) in the Fox afternoon programming pond.

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