The 2018 FIFA World Cup is underway in cities across Russia and despite the fact that the United States team is sitting this one out, there should be plenty of interest among America’s television markets. True soccer fans never miss the World Cup, and some even take time off from work to watch it just like basketball fans do during the first round of the NCAA tournament. Fox and FS1 will be offering seemingly endless levels of coverage for such fans.
Still, one has to wonder what effect, if any, the absence of the U.S. could have on TV ratings in the U.S., which is the market the sport is so desirable coveting? Soccer interest in the U.S. picked up noticeably when the 1994 FIFA World Cup was hosted here. Soccer addicts at the time thought this would be the springboard the sport needed to compete with the likes of football and baseball. Interest seems to be building around leagues like Major League Soccer. Here in the U.S. more young people are choosing soccer as a school sport over football, especially with all the chatter today over injuries; not that soccer, or any sport for that matter, doesn’t have some of its own issues.
But soccer as mainstream sport is still a work in progress in the U.S. It is played everywhere, especially by American youth. On TV, shows like ESPN’s Sportscenter often include soccer highlights in their recaps, especially the more action-packed plays that make some of the Top-Ten lists.
But, one has to ask if soccer overall will in the near future – say the next decade – reach a point in popularity that rivals other sports. Despite its criticisms and current political manifestations, the NFL is the juggernaut of TV ratings where even the NFL Draft is becoming and event. College Football is more popular than ever and ratings for the NBA, MLB and NHL remain solid. NASCAR may be the one sport that is suffering in the ratings department. PGA golf tournaments remain on national broadcast networks. Meanwhile, other than the World Cup, you don’t hear conversations in taverns, diners or around the water cooler about the latest soccer match and only some get network coverage.
However, despite a Team USA absence, there are some intriguing stories for this year’s World Cup. No team has repeated as champions since Brazil in 1958 and 1962; something Germany has a legitimate chance to do this year. A second German title would also tie them with the Brazilians at five each. Needless to say, should a Brazil/Germany match materialize at any point in the tournament, which runs until July 15, the hype should be notable, even for U.S. fans already looking ahead to 2022.