Fox Sports’ coverage of the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament, this year in Russia, kicks off in about 10 days. But factors this year could dent advertising revenue expectations.
The U.S. Men’s National Team failed to qualify for the tournament this year. And the match start times in Russia will mean live broadcasts in the U.S. will air early in the mornings. As the Los Angeles Times points out, in 2014 when the event was held in Brazil, ESPN likely benefited from friendlier start times.
ESPN averaged 4.6 million viewers per match, and the U.S. team’s four matches accounted for nearly 20% of ESPN’s total audience. While it’s unclear if or how much Fox Sports’ World Cup audience might dip this year, early TV times and no U.S. games could lead to as much as $20 million to $40 million in lost advertising revenue for the network.
But Fox Sports is trying to look on the sunny side of no U.S. team this year. David Neal, the executive producer of Fox Sports’ World Cup coverage, told the Times that no U.S. will free up Fox Sports to focus on a lot of different narratives that might otherwise have been skipped or glossed over to make room for coverage of the U.S. team.
Last year, the USMNT lost 2-1 in a qualifying match 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.
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 million 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.