Jamie Horowitz was fired this week from Fox Sports for what the company called “professional conduct” reasons. Reports from reputable publications, such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, said that his sudden dismissal came about amid a sexual harassment investigation. While that story is still developing, Horowitz’s talents as a sports talk television programmer are not in question, at least from the perspective of the TV ratings growth he leaves behind.
Horowitz is commonly credited with popularizing morning sports debate on TV, having created ESPN’s “First Take” and now Fox Sports 1’s flagship series “Undisputed.” When FS1 showed Jamie the door, it kicked out the man many internally believed to be the former Speed channel’s personal savior.
The Nielsen numbers since Horowitz’s hiring back in May 2015 back-up that optimism.
From June 2015 to June 2017, under the tutelage of the guy who was supposed to run the “Today” show but only lasted three months at NBC, FS1 nearly doubled its weekday daytime audience. To do so, Horowitz employed the same strategy he did at ESPN: focus on personality-driven studio programs. And the more yelling the better.
As of June 24, 2017, the network’s 9:30 a.m. ET to 7 p.m. ET average audience had grown 96 percent in 24 months. Most of that credit goes to “The Herd,” which launched in September 2015, and “Undisputed,” which started a year later.
“Undisputed,” which brought Skip Bayless over from ESPN, is the real gem of Horowitz’s now-former lineup, growing its time period by 126 percent year over year, and 288 percent among adults 18-49, the age-range that advertisers particularly love. “The Herd” is up 71 percent and 81 percent, respectively.
The gains don’t just stop at supper time, either. In 2016, Fox Sports 1 was up 21 percent in primetime. With some key baseball games anchoring its sports rights, FS1 grew 8 percent in live events. In total-day viewership, the full lineup rose 11 percent compared to 2015.
Here is where critics will point out how low FS1’s prior programming rated, arguing that those big percentage gains should be accompanied by an even-larger asterisk — and they wouldn’t be wrong. Frankly, FS1’s numbers have basically gone from “kind of terrible” to “pretty lame.” But that’s still marked improvement for a still new-ish network — especially in the days of 1,000 cable channels and streaming services.
Like the aforementioned Bayless and “Herd” host Colin Cowherd, Horowitz brought over a number of his buddies from ESPN to FS1. It’s unclear if any of those personalities will follow their boss out the door, or what direction their content will take. That’s now Fox Sports president Eric Shanks, problem — he’ll take over Horowitz’s duties until the company finds a replacement. Whether or not he can keep the numbers up remains to be seen.
Shanks, by the way, was the one who first informed staffers of Horowitz’s ousting in an email on Monday.
“I regret to inform you that Jamie Horowitz, president of National Networks for Fox Sports, will be leaving Fox Sports effective immediately,” it read. “We realize this news may come as a surprise for many of you, but we are confident in this decision.”
Shanks continued, “Everyone at Fox Sports, no matter what role we play, or what business, function or show we contribute to — should act with respect and adhere to professional conduct at all times. These values are non-negotiable.”
Horowitz’s attorney, Patty Glaser, released a statement later that day, referring to the handling of Horowitz’s exit as “appalling.”
“At no point in his tenure was there any mention by his superiors or human resources of any misconduct or an inability to adhere to professional conduct,” that one said. “Jamie was hired by Fox to do a job, a job that until today he has performed in an exemplary fashion. Any slanderous accusations to the contrary will be vigorously defended.”
In response, an attorney representing Fox Sports said that Horowitz’s “termination was fully warranted, and his lawyer’s accusations are ill-informed and misguided.”