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Volume 25 No. 61
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Fox, Telemundo Execs Reflect On World Cup Viewership, Look To ‘22

During the FIFA World Cup, Fox Sports got through slower viewership at the start of the event after it sensed interest increase after the mid-point, while Telemundo rode the Mexican team to early success, but petered out at the end due to a lack of Latin American squads. For both networks, the last month or so was the culmination of almost seven years of planning -- dating back to October ’11 -- when they surprisingly wrested away domestic media rights to the FIFA World Cup from ESPN and Univision. While viewership results were not close to levels seen in ’14 (Brazil), and not quite at the level of even ’10 (South Africa), execs from both nets were able to take away positives from their first time with the event, and are even more bullish about the prospects for the future. 

SOME ENGLISH ON IT: Fox Sports had strong head winds heading into the tourney once the U.S failed to qualify for Russia, not to mention early morning game windows for most of the country (particularly during the group stage). Compared to time-zone-friendly windows four years ago, a sharp drop was expected. That scenario played out early in the tournament before some recovery in later matches. Fox Sports Exec VP/Research, League Operations & Strategy Mike Mulvihill said of the viewership results, “My biggest takeaway is that it gathered a lot of momentum as it went on. I really felt like the tournament pivoted about half way through, and once we got to the third round of the group stage and the knockouts, the stories just got better and better.” But the absence of the USMNT and those early morning starts could not be overstated. Mulvihill: “The biggest obstacles coming in were really felt more sharply in the first 10 days of the tournament than they were thereafter. The loss of the U.S. made it a little trickier to generate interest in that opening week. Once we got through the early morning windows in the first two rounds of the group stage and up through the final, we were basically on par with 2014, and in some cases, performing better than 2014. Honestly, the first week was a little softer than anticipated, but the rest of the tournament was quite a bit better.”

LATIN LOVERS? Fox had put some heavy promotion behind the Mexican National Team once the USMNT failed to qualify, but not one of the four Mexico matches ranked in Fox’ top 10 World Cup games. Then, many of the bigger names in the tourney like Germany, Argentina and Portugal saw early exits. Mulvihill: “One of the big surprises of the tournament was Croatia, which accounted for four of our five most-watched matches. ... We found ourselves in circumstances where we didn’t really need the biggest stars. I felt there was a lesson there that the World Cup brand is powerful enough to attract interest regardless of how the biggest stars perform.” Meanwhile, Telemundo rode El Tri to some of the biggest numbers of the tournament. Telemundo Deportes President Ray Warren said of the viewership performance for the Mexican team, “They exceeded our expectations. The (Mexico games) were all higher than anticipated. Overall, we over-delivered our total audience objective, and our game plan was dependent on Mexico playing four games.” But with a dearth of North, Central and South American nations making it deep in the tourney, Telemundo’s momentum was sapped in the later rounds. Warren: “Give us one (Spanish-speaking) team in the quarterfinals and that changes dramatically.”

’22 JUMP STREET: Four years from now, the World Cup in Qatar will present a different set of issues. The time zone difference remains the same as Russia, but the event moves to November/December for the first time. The move could prove to be tricky for Fox, which has college and NFL football on weekends. Mulvihill: “We just don’t know what the kickoff times are going to be and we’re largely at the mercy of FIFA there. There’s a lot more sports competition at that time of year, and that’s what many people have been focused on initially. One positive factor is that it’s a higher (TV) usage time of year, with far more people indoors watching TV compared to what you have in June and July. Another positive, specific to us, is that the fall is our dominant time of year. We’re coming off the World Series, we’ve got the NFL, college football -- those are the best promotional platforms in all of TV. In some cases, we’ll have (World Cup) matches that lead directly into football.” Warren was much more bullish for the ’22 event, as Telemundo does not have to worry about football windows on the weekends. Warren: “We have a much cleaner lane. The Spanish-language audience does not watch a lot of NFL football. The bilingual audience does, but they watch it on the English networks. We run NFL games on NBC Universo, and we struggle to get a good audience. So two things are going to happen. 1) We’re not going to be competing for the same ad dollars. 2) Our audience is not going to be deciding ‘do I watch football or do I watch soccer?’ So I think we are gigantically over-advantaged over Fox in 2022.”

SUMMER LOVIN’
: The World Cup matches had a strong performance on the summer sports slate, despite many morning and mid-week windows. Of the top 20 most-watched sports telecasts since the start of June, World Cup telecasts took 11 of those spots. The France-Croatia final was the best audience among World Cup matches, ranking No. 6 overall in the measured time frame. Telemundo had the second- and third-best World Cup telecast audiences -- both Mexico group stage matches. Mexico-Germany on June 17 was the second-best audience of the entire tournament. The 7.1 million viewers for the match was even higher than the clinching Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on NBC back in early June or even the Home Run Derby on ESPN this past week. It even ended up as the best audience on record for a Spanish-language World Cup group stage game, regardless of network. All four Mexico matches on Telemundo cracked this top 20 list.

MOST-VIEWED SPORTS PROGRAMS FOR JUNE/JULY THROUGH MLB ALL-STAR GAME
RANK
TELECAST
DATE
NET
TIME (ET)
VIEWERS
(000)
1
NBA Finals: Cavaliers-Warriors: Game 2
6/3
ABC
7:58-10:42pm
18,471
2
NBA Finals: Warriors-Cavaliers: Game 3
6/6
ABC
8:58-11:37pm
17,941
3
NBA Finals: Warriors-Cavaliers: Game 4
6/8
ABC
8:58-11:33pm
16,242
4
Belmont Stakes (race segment)
6/9
NBC
6:22-7:13pm
12,656
5
NBA Finals Trophy Presentation
6/8
ABC
11:33pm-12:10am
12,212
6
FIFA World Cup Final: France-Croatia
7/15
Fox
10:40am-1:00pm
11,333
7
MLB All-Star Game
7/17
Fox
8:16-11:57pm
8,688
8
FIFA World Cup: Group Stage: Mexico-Germany
6/17
Telemundo
10:37am-12:58pm
7,130
9
FIFA World Cup: Group Stage: Mexico-South Korea
6/23
Telemundo
10:41am-1:08pm
6,620
10
NHL Stanley Cup Final:
Capitals-Golden Knights: Game 5
6/7
NBC
8:07-11:24pm
6,596
11
FIFA World Cup: Quarterfinal: Croatia-Russia
7/7
Fox
1:40-5:04pm
6,317
12
FIFA World Cup: Round of 16: Croatia-Denmark
7/1
Fox
9:40am-12:55pm
5,912
13
FIFA World Cup: Round of 16: Uruguay-Portugal
6/30
Fox
1:40-4:08pm
5,879
14
FIFA World Cup: Semifinal: Croatia-England
7/11
Fox
1:41-4:53pm
5,617
15
Home Run Derby
7/16
ESPN
8:00-10:32pm
5,567
16
FIFA World Cup: Group Stage: Germany-Sweden
6/23
Fox
1:41-4:07pm
5,397
17
FIFA World Cup Final: France-Croatia
7/15
Telemundo
10:40am-1:00pm
5,320
18
FIFA World Cup: Round of 16: Russia-Spain
7/1
Fox
9:40-12:55pm
5,118
19
Golf: U.S. Open: Final Round
6/17
Fox
10:00am-6:00pm
5,083
20
FIFA World Cup: Round of 16: Brazil-Mexico
7/2
Telemundo
9:40am-12:06pm
5,000
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