FOX’s World Cup success rides on how USMNT does in Qatar

FOX Sports executives know that the success of FOX’s World Cup coverage depends on one thing, and that’s how well the USMNT does.

If the US Men’s National Team goes home after three games, FOX Sports faces huge obstacles to make World Cup 2022 a financial and viewership success.

Conversely, if the USMNT advance from Group B and progress through the different rounds, it may just be enough for FOX Sports to break through the noise of college football and the NFL.

The unique challenge of FOX’s World Cup

During a video conference this week with US soccer media, World Soccer Talk asked Telemundo Deportes President Ray Warren about the advantages that the Spanish-language broadcaster has compared to the challenges facing FOX Sports.

“Some of FOX’s viewers will have to make choices,” said Warren. “There’s a lot of conflict in [FOX’s] schedule between college football and NFL. They’ll have more games on FS1 this year than they did in 2018 because of that. Example being Argentina versus Mexico, which will conflict with Ohio State-Michigan, so we’re looking forward to that day.

“Hispanic fans pivot from one team to the next. If their team goes out, they have a second favorite. They might have a third. And if everybody is out, they still want to watch the World Cup, and they’ll have a fourth.

“More Hispanic teams in our domain allows us an audience that will stay with us.”

That’s something that FOX Sports doesn’t have up its sleeve.

USMNT has to do well for FOX

Watching the World Cup, if you sense an over-exuberance on FOX’s part to want the USMNT to do well, don’t be too surprised. At the heart of it, FOX Sports’ talent are proud of the US team, and are both excited and positive about their chances to succeed.

At the same time, they know that a US team progressing through this competition will give them more exposure on television, as well as helping the TV ratings.

After all, FOX knows what it feels like not to have the USMNT at a World Cup.

“The collateral damage that [the US not playing in the 2018 World Cup] did to our viewership numbers was unmistakable,” FOX Sports Executive Producer David Neal said recently.

USA’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia also hurt FOX’s bottom line.

According to Standard Media Index estimates, FOX’s advertising sales were down 29% for World Cup 2018 compared to the $319 million pulled in by Disney and Univision. In short, it was due to lower-than-expected ratings.

All in all, a successful campaign for the US Men’s National Team at Qatar 2022 will make a huge difference for FOX Sports. Indirectly, USA’s success in the World Cup will help grow the popularity of the sport in our country too.

How Qatar 2022 has already been a success for FOX

However, the irony in all of this is that Qatar 2022 has already been a major success for FOX Sports. How so? In 2011, FOX Sports paid roughly $500 million to FIFA for the rights to televise the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. But in 2014, the reports revealed that FIFA were planning to switch Qatar 2022 from the summer to the winter months.

Subsequently, according to World Soccer Talk sources, FOX Sports threatened to sue FIFA for moving the competition to the winter. In short, FOX Sports were upset that the tournament would be going head-to-head with college football and the NFL. Hence, Qatar 2022 would not be as successful financially for FOX Sports due to increased competition from traditional American sports.

Ultimately, a compromise was reached.

FIFA made the decision to award FOX Sports the TV rights to the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Despite this, no other broadcasters had the opportunity to bid on the rights. ESPN, among other broadcasters, were furious.

The story had an even happier ending for FOX Sports when in 2018 the broadcaster learned that the United States, Canada and Mexico would co-host the World Cup in 2026. On home turf, the competition promises to be a major cash cow for FOX Sports, in in particular, as the exclusive English-language broadcaster in the United States.

In hindsight, perhaps Qatar 2022 was the best decision that could have ever happened for FOX Sports.

Photo credit: IMAGO / Icon Sportswire

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