The Lucky Fox Enters a Rough Patch

Fox Sports has lived a charmed life so far this fall; that’s about to change.

“You make your own luck,” so the expression goes. Or maybe you don’t. Whatever one’s opinion of the role of fate in one’s place in the world, the fortunes of Fox Sports have gone up as the autumn leaves have fallen.

The formerly fourth network has seen its NFL television ratings have returned to pre-Kaepernick levels (sorry Colin, if you were as good at your job as Daryl Morey is at his, the fact that you’re box office poison would’ve kept you out of the unemployment line), thanks to a bountiful slate of late afternoon Cowboys games and some compelling Thursday night matchups.

The Yankees are on a Playoff run, and Fox just so happens to hold AL Playoff rights this season.

On the college gridiron Fox may still be lacking the sport’s greatest asset, which goes by the initials S-E-C, but Rupert Murdoch’s sports folks are making lemons out of lemonade. Their bet on morning football (in the populated half of the country that is not in the Eastern time zone, at least) via the “Big Noon” gimmick has paid off beautifully thus far. Texas/Oklahoma posted stellar numbers last Saturday. The 9 am Pacific slot looks poised to hit a new high with the Wisconsin/Ohio State should-be-eliminator-if-they-didn’t-have-that-darned-Playoff in eight days.

Big Noon has been the rare #sportsbiz gimmick to reach the Worldwide Reader’s highest threshold of success: causing me to change my mind. When Pac 12 Commissioner/The Reader’s archenemy Larry Scott floated the idea of adding 9 am games to the Pac’s schedule, yours truly was appalled. “Who wants to tailgate at 6 am? “, I asked. “Everybody who’s cool,” should have been the correct answer, though it took a few weeks of Fox’s stellar ratings for the Reader to realize it.

Like so many instances of celestial beauty, Fox’s successful sports autumn may be fleeting. Shed a tear for the crafty Aussie billionaire who duped Iger’s Mouse into buying his declining assets…

It was in fact something from the skies that signaled the start of the crafty Fox’s rough patch: rain. Specifically, rain in New York city on Wednesday, October 16. The postponement of the Yankees/Astros ALCS game four really mucked up the works for Fox Sports. 1) Halted the momentum from a scintillating first three games, 2) Pushed game five to Friday night, where TV viewers tend to be older and thinner in number, 3)Bumped Ohio State vs. Northwestern — with its interesting upset potential, given the aforementioned OSU/UW headliner next week — to the scantly viewed Big Ten Network, and 4) Created stiff competition for Fox broadcast’s 51-week primetime crown jewel, WWE Smackdown. What a bummer: less hype for next week’s Big Noon, weaker audience for what could be Fox’s last Yankees telecast of 2019, and a strong likelihood that Smackdown’s demo rating — already hanging at a perilous 1.0 last week — could go fractional in week three.

The rain isn’t the only pain for Fox’s near future. The Thursday night NFL slate gets a tad ugly until Thanksgiving: Skins/Vikes, Niners/Cards (couple more dubs for Cliff & Kyler would do wonders for that one), the Reader’s Chargers vs. the Raiders, and Baker Mayfield’s First Read against Mason Rudolph’s Steelers. Compounding the pain is the fact that Fox owns only two Sunday afternoon NFL windows (when ratings are highest) from now ’til then: this weekend’s Bridgewater/Trubisky battle, and a suddenly middling Rams/Steelers matchup on November 10. (Look for Panthers/Packers or Lions/Bears to be flipped to that 11/10 afternoon slot, thus dulling some of Fox’s pain.)

Now add in the fact that the Yankees look poised to deflate, be it tonight or this weekend.

That leaves Fox Sports’ next month with a teetering Smackdown, a series of middling Big Noon matchups (aside from Badgers/Buckeyes), a World Series showdown between cities who would rather be watching football, and a Cowboy-less NFL lineup.

Maybe it’s better to be lucky than good.

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