Fox Sports’ roughly $200 million winning bid for the U.S. broadcast rights to the 2018 World Cup doesn’t look quite as sweet now that the U.S. Men’s National Team failed to qualify for the tournament.
The USMNT lost 2-1 in a qualifying match Tuesday against Trinidad and Tobago and that result, combined with scores from other matches, added up to the U.S. men’s team missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Of course, it’s unclear how significant of an impact the absence of the U.S. will have on overall ratings for the tournament. In 2014, the 64 matches aired on ESPN averaged 4.5 million viewers in the U.S. The World Cup finals match, which aired on ABC, pulled in 17.3 million viewers.
In 2011, Fox and Telemundo won the U.S. rights for the 2018 and 2022 men’s World Cups for a combined $1 billion. That total was more than double the $425,000 that ESPN and Univision paid together for the U.S. rights to the 2010 and 2014 men’s World Cups—and of that total, ESPN paid $100 million.
For their deal, Fox paid $400 million and Telemundo paid $600 million. That agreement also included U.S. broadcast rights to the 2015 and 2019 women’s World Cup as well as other soccer tournaments.
It’s worth noting that U.S. viewership for the 2014 men’s World Cup was significant even though the USMNT did not make it past the first match of the knockout round. But having zero presence from the American team in the 2018 World Cup, being held in Russia, could put some kind of damper on overall interest. Still, teams like Mexico, which has qualified, are sure to draw interest from U.S. audiences.
Fox Sports did not immediately respond to FierceBroadcasting's request for comment.
Although soccer is still considered somewhat of an outlier sport in the U.S. when compared with ratings and ad revenue giants like football, more programmers are placing bets on attracting U.S. audiences with soccer broadcast and OTT offerings.
Turner announced earlier this year that it will use its UEFA soccer rights to help launch a new sports streaming service in 2018. NBCUniversal announced that it will offer English Premier League soccer games not available on cable in a new subscription streaming package.