2018 World Cup television viewership in the United States is down 44 percent from 2014, according to a Nielsen report.
The drop is comparable on both Fox’s English-language broadcasts and NBCUniversal’s Telemundo Spanish-language broadcasts.
According to the data, Fox has averaged 1.98 million viewers per game, down from ESPN’s 3.55 million in 2014. Games on Telemundo have averaged 1.87 million viewers, down from 3.3 million on Univision. Together, the networks shelled out more than $1 billion for the U.S. rights to the current tournament, as well as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Lack of U.S. presence contributing to fall in numbers
The drop is almost definitely due in part to the U.S. men failing to qualify, as the team’s games historically have drawn the highest viewership in the States. Additionally, games this year generally start four hours earlier than in 2014, which means as early as 6 a.m. on the East Coast (3 a.m. on the West Coast).
“It’s a combination of all these things that leads you to this drop,” said Bloomberg sports media consultant Chris Bevilacqua. “These numbers aren’t necessarily a shock. This is probably along the lines of what the networks thought was going to happen once the U.S. failed to qualify.”
However, Fox Sports’ executive vice president of research Michael Mulvihill noted that viewership in public spaces, like bars, has been reasonable (but is slow to factor into total view numbers). Additionally, he said that viewership in the early stages was up 32 percent compared the average of the last four tournaments, minus games involving the U.S.
The Germany-Mexico and Brazil-Switzerland matches in the first week were the two most-watched soccer games in the history of the network.
Approaching the tournament, Fox reportedly did lower the audience it promised advertisers by as much as 20 percent, and in October after the US failed to qualify, Bloomberg reported that Fox lowered its ad sales projections about $20 million.
In the US team’s absence, the networks have pivoted the focus of their coverage to Mexico.
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