On Sunday, Fox will wrap up its first Men’s World Cup as Croatia will take on France for international soccer bragging rights for the next four years.
In what shouldn’t come as a surprise — considering the U.S. failed to qualify and the TV-unfriendly time zones in Russia — viewership has been down considerably compared to 2014’s World Cup. Fox has averaged 2.6 million viewers through the first 62 matches on the Fox broadcast network and Fox Sports 1, down nearly 40 percent from what ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC averaged through the same time frame four years ago (4.3 million), according to Nielsen figures.
One bright spot: ESPN had the benefit of four matches featuring the United States, including their group stage match against Portugal, which netted a record 18.2 million viewers. ABC pulled in 17.3 million for the final between Germany and Argentina in 2014.
It’s not all bad news for Fox. As the tournament has progressed, ratings have trended upward. The July 7 quarterfinal matchup between host Russia and Croatia drew 6.4 million viewers, the most for any quarterfinal match on U.S. television. For Fox’s two semifinal games this week on July 10-11, the network averaged 5.03 million viewers, off by just 6 percent compared to 2014.
Fox, which shelled out $425 million to out-bid ESPN for World Cup TV rights, was already facing a tall order to come anywhere close to the record soccer TV ratings that ESPN and ABC pulled in four years ago from Brazil. Brazil was just one hour ahead of the U.S. east coast, which meant most of those matches aired around primetime, whereas Russia was seven hours ahead. And when the United States failed to qualify for the tournament, it made things even worse.
The next World Cup in 2022 will be held from Middle East country Qatar, and moved to the winter to avoid the unbearably hot summer temperatures in the Gulf. But Fox did have one major celebration and it came before the tournament even started. The 2026 tournament, the last under Fox’s TV rights deal with FIFA, will be held in North America, with most of the matches emanating from the U.S.