No U.S. in World Cup to have ma­jor im­pact

The Times-Tribune - - Sports - BY NOAH TRISTER

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 is cer­tainly 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 tour­na­ment or­ga­niz­ers could also be im­pacted by the Amer­i­cans’ ab­sence.

Fox, which broad­casts next year’s World Cup, of­fered only a state­ment Wed­nes­day — which did pro­vide some in­sight as to how the net­work will likely pro­mote a World Cup with­out the U.S.

“(Tues­day) 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. Now Fox’s 2018 tour­na­ment won’t have the Amer­i­cans, and rat­ings for the 2022 event in Qatar could be af­fected by the fact that it is set to be held in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber, in­stead of its usual cal­en­dar spot mid­way through the year.

The U.S. team’s fail­ure to qual­ify for 2018 dented shares of Twenty-First Cen­tury Fox on Wed­nes­day. The stock fell 66 cents, or 2.5 per­cent, to $26.11. But con­cerns over Fox’s out­look may be overblown, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from Piv­otal Re­search Group.

RE­BECCA BLACK­WELL / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Chris­tian Pulisic is com­forted by a team staff mem­ber af­ter the United States lost to Trinidad and Tobago on Tues­day. The loss pre­vented the U.S. from qual­i­fy­ing for next year’s World Cup in Rus­sia.

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