World Cup TV Ratings Surge With U.S. Again in Competition
The move of the Men’s World Cup from its traditional summer berth to fall doesn’t seem to have hurt TV viewing in the United States — and the presence of the U.S. team in the tournament has definitely helped.
Through the first 31 group stage matches, Fox Sports is averaging 3.15 million viewers per game — a 44 percent improvement over the same time frame for the 2018 World Cup (2.19 million). Telemundo’s Spanish-language coverage is also drawing nearly 2.6 million viewers per contest on air and on Peacock and Telemundo streaming platforms.
The U.S. team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, which resulted in lower TV ratings for Fox Sports, which had rights to the event for the first time, than ESPN tallied in 2014. Ratings have improved on 2018 even given the late fall start — amid a crowded sports calendar that includes the NFL, college football, the NBA and the NHL — along with concerns over host country Qatar’s record on human rights and the hundreds of worker deaths during construction of stadiums for the tournament.
The three group stage games involving the United States have brought in big audiences — including some 20 million across all platforms for the U.S.-England match on Nov. 25. Fox’s 15.49 million viewers for the match is a record for any men’s soccer match on English-language TV in the United States, the network says. (ESPN claimed 18.2 million viewers for a U.S.-Portugal group stage game in 2014 and 17.3 million for the final, but that covered only the games and not any pre- or post-match programming as is more typical for soccer. With that included, the U.S.-Portugal contest averaged 13.77 million viewers.) Telemundo’s coverage added 3.24 million on-air viewers for the match and an additional 1.27 million on streaming.
The all-time viewing record for a soccer match on a single network in the United States is 25.4 million for the Women’s World Cup final in 2015. The previous high for a men’s match, including pre- and post-match coverage, was the 1994 World Cup final at 14.51 million. (Prior World Cup averages also don’t include out of home viewing, which Nielsen added to its ratings tallies in 2020.)
The U.S. opener against Wales delivered 7.76 million viewers on Fox and 2.29 million on Telemundo. Monday’s U.S. victory over Iran, which put the team into the knockout rounds, brought in 12.01 million viewers on Fox (Telemundo figures weren’t immediately available). The three U.S. games averaged 11.71 million viewers for Fox, the best showing ever for the USMNT on English language TV and up 10 percent from 2014 (which, again, didn’t include out of home viewing).
Aside from the U.S. matches, the two biggest draws in the first week of the tournament were Argentina vs. Mexico (6.31 million viewers on Telemundo, 4.13 million on FS1) and Brazil vs. Serbia (6.19 million on Fox, 4.16 million on Telemundo), both of which topped 10 million viewers. Telemundo says it averaged an additional 2 million-plus viewers for Argentina-Mexico on its streaming platform and Peacock, while Fox had 346,000 on streaming.
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