Fox Sports Likely to Take a Big Ratings Hit for the 2018 World Cup After the U.S. Fails to Qualify

Tries to drum up enthusiasm with the men's team out of the tournament

Christian Pulisic channeled Fox Sports execs after the U.S. lost to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

The U.S. men’s soccer team will have a black eye for years after it failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia with a shocking loss Tuesday night. But the night’s biggest loser was Fox Sports, which has U.S. rights to the tournament next summer and could be looking at a significant ratings and advertising hit now that the U.S. men won’t be competing.

This morning, the company took a glass-half-full approach, releasing a statement in which it said it still has “passion” for the upcoming World Cup.

In 2011, Fox Sports spent more than $400 million to outbid ESPN for the rights to the four FIFA World Cup tournaments from 2015 to 2022, including the men’s World Cup in 2018 and 2022 and the women’s World Cup in 2015 and 2019. (Telemundo outbid Univision for the Spanish-language rights.)

Now, as Fox Sports prepares to air its first men’s World Cup starting in June next year, it will have to do so without the U.S. team, which lost to Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 on Tuesday in what ESPN called “the most embarrassing defeat in U.S. soccer history” and, as a result, was eliminated from the tournament for the first time since 1986.

"Last night’s World Cup qualifying results do not change Fox Sports’ passion for the world’s biggest sporting event."
Fox Sports

Fox Sports today released the following statement: “Last night’s World Cup qualifying results do not change Fox Sports’ passion for the world’s biggest sporting event. While the U.S. was eliminated, the biggest stars in the world from Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo stamped their tickets to Russia on the same day, and will battle teams ranging from Mexico to England that have massive fan bases in America. The World Cup is the greatest sporting event on earth that changes the world for one month every four years, and Fox Sports remains steadfast in our commitment of bringing the games to America for the first time in 2018 and will continue to support the U.S. Soccer Federation as they look ahead to the 2022 World Cup.”

Of course, the company doesn’t have much of a choice and will have to spend the next eight months drumming up enthusiasm for a World Cup that lacks a U.S. team. Two weeks ago, Fox Networks Group announced Verizon will sponsor the halftime shows for each of the 64 World Cup matches Fox Sports will air, and Volkswagen will sponsor the postgame shows. More than a dozen advertisers had already signed on to its coverage, and the company is in “advanced discussions” with FIFA partners like Adidas and Coca-Cola.

During a splashy World Cup presentation for advertisers and buyers last month, Fox Sports unveiled its extensive coverage plans for the tournament, which included 350 hours of programming on Fox and FS1. Fox Sports president and executive producer Eric Shanks called it “the biggest global sporting event of 2018” and promised his company would “showcase the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia as an international cultural moment unlike ever before in U.S. television history.”

That task just became much more difficult, though Fox Sports was already hedging its bets during last month’s event. While U.S. national coach Bruce Arena told attendees he was “very optimistic” that the U.S. team would qualify (oops), Fox Sports also brought out Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who noted that the Mexican team sometimes has more fans than the U.S. team when it plays in this country.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.