Cup absence could have wide-ranging effects
The 2018 World Cup will be a unique test of soccer’s appeal in the United States.
Will Americans still watch if their national team isn’t there? Fox certainly is hoping so.
The U.S. failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia when it lost at Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night, and the effects of that defeat may be felt for quite some time. The team, and indeed the whole U.S. Soccer Federation, faces a period of soul searching — but broadcasters, sponsors and tourna- ment organizers also could feel the impact of the Americans’ absence.
Fox, which broadcasts next year’s World Cup, offered only a brief statement Wednesday — which did provide some insight as to how the network likely will promote a World Cup without the U.S.
“Last night’s World Cup qualifying results do not change FOX Sports’ passion for the world’s biggest sporting event,” the statement said. “While the U.S. was eliminated, the biggest stars in the world from Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo stamped their tickets to Russia on the same day, and will battle teams ranging from Mexico to England that have massive fan bases in America.”
Fans in the U.S. are familiar with stars like Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. Top European club teams now have American followings, which suggests that soccer in the U.S. can withstand a short-term slump for the national team.
An estimated 26.5 million people in the U.S. watched Germany’s victory over Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil, and the 2018 final figures to be a major draw as well. But a U.S.-Portugal match in the group stage of the 2014 tournament had 24.7 million viewers — and that’s the type of interest that might be absent from earlier games in 2018.
“It’s going to hurt a little bit,” said Austin Karp, an assistant managing editor of SportsBusiness Daily. “You’re not going to have any buildup there toward the summer, with the U.S. team playing either friendlies — or talk about how the U.S. team is going to do, promotion of the U.S. team on Fox properties like baseball or other spring stuff they might have. ... The U.S. matches were some of the strongest audiences for ESPN-ABC the last couple of iterations of the tournament. The final will still be OK.”
Fox broadcast the Women’s World Cup in 2015, but next year will be its first time carrying the men’s tournament since winning U.S. Englishlanguage World Cup rights back in 2011.