The United States men’s national soccer team qualified for every World Cup since 1990, broadcasting rights to each of those events were held by ABC/ESPN. Fox agreed to pay $400 million for the 2018 and 2022 English World Cup TV rights, $200 million each.
When Fox outbid ESPN, they anticipated getting at least three group stage games out of the U.S. Men’s National Team, with the potential to get a couple more if the U.S. made a run into later rounds. Tuesday night, the USMNT lost to Trinidad and Tobago eliminating them from the 2018 World Cup before it even started. The tournament will certainly garner interest around the country, but there’s no doubt losing the American team is a big blow for Fox.
The 2018 World Cup is set to be the largest production in Fox Sports’ 24 year history, with the network sending 450 people to Russia for the event. Fox owned the English broadcast rights for the Women’s World Cup in 2015 which received 25.4 million viewers for the title game, making it the most watched soccer game in U.S. history.
The Men’s 2014 World Cup game between the U.S. and Portugal, on ESPN, was the previous most watched soccer game in the country, with an average audience of 18.2 million. Fox’s 2015 coverage of the Women’s World Cup had a 21% viewership increase average for each match, as compared to 2011 when ESPN held the event. Similar increases for the 2018 Men’s World Cup were expected by Fox, which now appears to be a tall task without the participation of the USMNT.
Fox Sports will still move forward with 350 hours of World Cup coverage and market it within the country as a major event. There’s no way to calculate how much money the USMNT loss Tuesday night will cost the network, but it certainly hurts to not have the American team in Russia for the 2018 event.