World Cup: Despite No Team USA, Fox Still Saw Strong Demand From Advertisers

But they still hoped for more when they out-bid ESPN for TV rights

Trinidad & Tobago v United States - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier
COUVA, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO – OCTOBER 10: Matt Besler of the United States mens national team reacts as the USA lose to Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium on October 10, 2017 in Couva, Trinidad And Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

While Fox certainly hoped for more when it shelled out $425 million to out-bid ESPN for World Cup TV rights, a U.S.-free tournament doesn’t look like it will be the disaster many predicted.

After initial projections that the U.S. team’s surprising failure to qualify could cost Fox as much as $20 million in advertising revenue, the network is now expecting ad sales losses to be less than $10 million, an insider with knowledge of Fox’s ad sales negotiations told TheWrap.

That’s because over the last week, Fox received some good fortune in the form of a stronger-than-expected haul that insiders attribute to several factors.

First, the Golden State Warriors’ sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals left advertisers who were hoping for a six or seven game series looking for other options. Outside of the MLB All-Star game in July, there aren’t many big ticket TV events until the fall, when there will be the Emmys and college and professional football.

Then on Wednesday morning, FIFA awarded the 2026 World Cup to the joint North American bid from U.S., Mexico and Canada, which put the Americans back in the World Cup conversation the day before this year’s tournament kicked off. Fox has World Cup rights through that 2026 tournament, which is also the first to expand from 32 to 48 teams.

Fox is now hoping that talk of a mostly-U.S. hosted World Cup in eight years will help blunt any ratings losses from this year.

Fox has sold about 95 percent of its inventory for the 48 group stage matches, with the only spots remaining in the some of the lesser-desired match-ups. They have about one ad unit remaining in the semi-finals and about five left in the championship.

The biggest mountain Fox had to climb for this World Cup was always going to be the TV-unfriendly time zones from Russia, which had already been worked into their ad sales negotiations.

Thursday’s opening match between the host nation and Saudi Arabia will kick off at 11 a.m. ET. In 2014, ESPN had the benefit of Brazil’s time zone aligning perfectly with the East Coast, which helped it and ABC amass some $187 million in ad sales, according to ad-tracking firm Kantar Media, though the insider disputed that figure and argued it was closer to between $160-165 million.

The insider added Fox expects to come close to that amount when all is said and done.