The move of the Men’s World Cup from the traditional summer to the fall doesn’t appear to have affected television viewing in the United States — and the U.S. team’s presence in the tournament certainly helped.
Through the first 31 group stage games, Fox Sports averaged 3.15 million viewers per game — a 44% improvement over the same time frame for the 2018 World Cup (2.19 million). Telemundo’s Spanish-language coverage is also drawing close to 2.6 million viewers per contest aired and on the Peacock and Telemundo streaming platforms.
Team USA failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, resulting in television ratings for Fox Sports, which have the rights to the event for the first time, lower than ESPN in 2014. Ratings have improved into 2018 even with the start of the late fall — amid a packed sports schedule that includes the NFL, college football, the NBA, and the NHL — along with concerns about the host country’s human rights record. Qatari houses and hundreds of workers were killed during the construction of stadiums for the tournament.
The three group stage matches featuring the US drew a large audience — including around 20 million across all platforms for the US vs UK match on November 25, 15.49 million Fox’s match viewership is a record for any men’s soccer game in English-language television in the United States, the network said. (ESPN claimed 18.2 million viewers watched the 2014 US-Portugal group stage match and 17.3 million watched the final, but that figure only includes the matches and not any programming. Before or after the game is more typical for football. Additionally, the US-Portugal competition averaged 13.77 million viewers.) Telemundo’s coverage added 3.24 million online viewers for the match and an additional 1.27 million in streaming.
The all-time viewing record for a soccer match on a single network in the United States was 25.4 million for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final. The previous high for a single game. men’s, including pre- and post-match coverage, was in 1994 World Cup Finals at 14.51 million. (The previous World Cup average also doesn’t include outside views, which Nielsen added to its rankings in 2020.)
The United States’ opening game against Wales drew 7.76 million viewers on Fox and 2.29 million on Telemundo. Monday’s US win over Iran, which sent the team into the knockout stages, brought in 12.01 million viewers on Fox (Telemundo’s figures weren’t immediately available). The three US games drew an average of 11.71 million viewers for Fox, USMNT’s best-ever show on English-language television, and a 10% increase from 2014 (once also, does not include viewing outside the home).
Outside of the US games, the two biggest draws in the first week of the tournament were Argentina vs. Mexico (6.31 million viewers on Telemundo, 4.13 million on FS1) and Brazil vs. Serbia (6.19 million on Fox, 4.16 million on Telemundo), both of which hit the 10 million viewer mark. Telemundo said it added an average of more than 2 million viewers to the Argentina-Mexico match on its streaming platform and Peacock, while Fox had 346,000 streams.