With a $200 million investment on the line, FOX got some news it didn’t want to hear last night when the USA Men’s National Team was eliminated from next year’s World Cup. While interest in soccer has increased with the US audience, not having the US participate is bound to significantly impact viewership levels and expected revenues.
Research discussed by ESPN for the 2010 World Cup showed that many people have a second or third favorite team they would follow if their primary team is knocked out – either based on heritage, favorite player, or other exposure to a country/culture, like vacations. For instance, in my case, in 2014 aside from the USA I followed England because my parents were both English, and Costa Rica as I once visited there. However, having viewership rely on people’s second or third favorite teams isn’t a recipe for great success.
One way around that is for an underdog make a significant run in the tournament – such as Butler in the 2010 NCAA basketball tournament. For World Cup 2018, Iceland is probably the team to create a stir if they have some success, which could add to interest in the beginning rounds of the tournament.
Another potential issue is the location – Russia – and the potential issues arising from playing in a country with whom the US has a chilly relationship. Will politics impact viewership? We may be seeing some of that with the NFL, with negative reactions to the national anthem protests. It may not be out of the question that increasing US-Russia rhetoric could turn people away.
It’s still a long way from the first whistle next June 14. Get ready between now and then for FOX’s marketing teams to convince you that the World Cup is not to be missed – even if it’s missing the USA.