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The NFL's two-year TV downturn is taking a bite out of broadcast TV partners like Fox Sports that fork over billions for rights to live games.

Fox Sports staffers in Los Angeles are bracing for a wave of possible budget cutbacks due to disappointing NFL advertising sales this season, sources tell Sporting News. Another important factor: With Team USA eliminated from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Fox can't count on soccer ad dollars next year to get well from an ad standpoint.

NBC Sports will televise Super Bowl 52 from U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb 4, 2018. To save money, Fox likely will not send Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe and other FS1 stars on location in Minnesota, sources said.

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When Fox televised Super Bowl 51 in February, it seized the chance to promote its new FS1 programming lineup by sending all of its studio shows to Houston, including “Undisputed” with Bayless, Sharpe and Joy Taylor, “Speak for Yourself” with Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock and the now canceled “Garbage Time with Katie Nolan” and “Fox Sports Live” with Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole.

But that was then. Like other NFL broadcaster partners such as NBC, CBS and ESPN, Fox is now struggling with an NFL audience drop over two seasons.

Through Week 13, the "NFL on Fox's" average TV audience fell 12 percent to 17.4 million viewers from the same period in 2016. The TV audience for the network’s "America's Game of the Week" between the Saints and Panthers on Dec. 3 plummeted 20 percent to 20.2 million viewers. To illustrate the strength of NFL programming, however, the telecast still ranked as the most-watched program of the week on TV, according to the network.

Sports TV networks often adjust budgets based on rising/falling ad sales. But few at Fox, which pays an estimated $1 billion annually for NFL game rights, expected a serious downturn from pro football; the TV equivalent of beachfront property in Malibu.

Skip Bayless et al. posing for the camera: Joy Taylor, Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe © (Fox Sports) Joy Taylor, Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe

The NFL has lost roughly 1 in 5 viewers since 2015, according to Nielsen. That was the last full season before 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick launched his protest during the national anthem, which inspired dozens of players and coaches to sit, take a knee or raise a fist against racial injustice.

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Since then, there have been endless media debates about why the NFL’s TV audiences are shrinking. But Kaepernick has inspired several fan boycotts on social media. There’s #BoycottNFL fans, who vow not to watch another NFL game until commissioner Roger Goodell mandates all players stand for the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” At the same time, #NoKaepernickNoNFL fans say they won’t tune in until the QB lands another job in the NFL.

The high hopes Fox had for a World Cup advertising home run, meanwhile, vanished when the U.S. men’s national team unexpectedly lost to Trinidad and Tobago in October. It will be the first time since 1986 the U.S. will be excluded from the world’s biggest sporting event.

"Now there's no chance for a big save with the U.S. out of the World Cup," one source said.

DeCOURCY: What's next for U.S. soccer?

On the other hand, Fox experienced an advertising windfall when MLB’s Astros-Dodgers World Series, and the Yankees-Astros American League Championship Series, both reached seven games. MLB TV networks typically budget for a five-game series, said a source. The ad dollars collected from six and seven game series is gravy.

Fox is far from the only sports TV network dealing with business challenges in the depressed sports TV environment. ESPN just laid off 150 staffers during the holiday season. Over two years, ESPN has pink-slipped 550 employees both in front of and behind the camera.

Meanwhile, ESPN is quietly declining to renew the contracts of some “SportsCenter” anchors such as Sarina Morales. These folks are not technically part of the layoffs, but they’re out the door in Bristol just the same.

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-gb/sport/nfl/fox-sports-budget-cuts-could-affect-super-bowl-plans-for-skip-bayless-other-fs1-stars/ar-BBGAEsT

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