In the battle to dominate top college sports broadcasting, Fox appears to be out-dueling ESPN through the first half of the basketball season — scoring the top average viewership of any network through mid-January.
College basketball on Fox is averaging 1.25 million viewers this season, according to Fox Sports Head of Strategy and Analytics Michael Mulvihill. That’s a 35% increase compared with last year for the network.
Mulvihill is “not super confident that’s going to last,” he said in a tweet, “but to be No. 1 for even half a season is pretty good progress.”
One impressive example: Saturday night’s Pac-12 matchup between UCLA and Colorado drew 1.98 million viewers, more than any conference matchup since 2017. The number is particularly notable given that the game had to compete with postseason NFL.
Fox usually isn’t the leader in college basketball. In 2022, for example, CBS had the highest average of 1.25 million. ESPN — which has the highest volume of games – ranked second, and Fox followed. And in the postseason, ESPN and CBS are the clear winners as they have rights to the women’s and men’s tournaments, respectively.
But Fox has the top sport for now — and could have an elevated chance of holding that spot in the future.
- The Big Ten’s next media rights deal, which begins in 2023-24, will move all the conference’s sports to Fox, CBS, and NBC — marking the first time in four decades that ESPN will not own any Big Ten rights.
- ESPN will lose marquee Big Ten basketball events like the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which the network terminated in November. The SEC/Big 12 men’s challenge will also cease to exist.
Fox will score a major win when UCLA and USC basketball join the Big Ten in 2024. And like any network, Fox could throw its hat in the ring for a women’s basketball tournament package starting in 2024-25. Though ESPN is interested in retaining those rights.
The Worldwide Leader in Sports still has plenty of quality college basketball content, though. Through a renewed partnership, it will continue to split the Big 12 rights with Fox. ESPN also has access to Pac-12 rights for now. And it’s getting creative with basketball events — launching an ACC/SEC Challenge for both men’s and women’s teams in 2023.