Missing the World Cup was a disaster for the USMNT in a variety of ways. Attendance and fan enthusiasm bottomed out as the US posted its worst average home attendance in twelve years. But nowhere was it bleaker than on television.
The World Cup is one of those rare times when millions of people are tuned in to watch the US play, but they didn’t have that this year. At the four games at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, the US averaged 14,256,250 per game (overall in 2014 the average viewership was 4,306,933 though 15 games). At the four games at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the US averaged 9,921,000 per game. That’s a lot of eyeballs, and this year the US did not have that. Here’s how bad it was.
2018 USMNT TV Ratings:
USA vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina – 1/28 – Friendly – FS1 – 331,000
USA vs. Paraguay – 3/27 – Friendly – FS1 – 337,000
USA vs. Bolivia – 5/28 – Friendly – FS1 – 445,000
Ireland vs. USA – 6/2 – Friendly – ESPN2 – 453,000
France vs. USA – 6/9 – Friendly – ESPN – 697,000
USA vs. Brazil – 9/7 – Friendly – FS1 – 512,000
USA vs. Mexico – 9/11 – Friendly – ESPN – 827,000
USA vs. Colombia – 10/11 – Friendly – FS1 – 280,000
USA vs. Peru – 10/16 – Friendly – ESPN2 – 347,000
England vs. USA – 11/15 – Friendly – ESPN2 – 310,000
Italy vs. USA – 11/20 – Friendly – FS1 – 208,000
• Total Viewership: 4,750,000
• Average Viewership: 431,818
Right off the bat, there were zero US games that drew 1 million viewers, which is the first year that has happened since before 2009. The 431,818 per game represents a drop of 47% from 2017. This year was the second consecutive year of TV ratings decline for the US: from 965,842 per game in 2016 down to 819,842 in 2017 down to the 431,818 this year. Coupled with this being the third straight year of attendance decline, the situation looks very bleak for US Soccer.
It is interesting to note that for the first five games of the year, the viewership number grew a little from game to game. The number for the Brazil game was disappointing given that it was a marquee opponent in primetime on a Friday night. It’s also worth nothing that when it comes to friendlies, games on ESPN draw much better than FS1 (I say friendlies because Fox Sports somehow has a near monopoly on competitive games, airing 24 of the competitive games during the last cycle, compared to just four for ESPN).
So what should fans expect for the future? The games that have been announced for the January Camp certainly aren’t going to move the needle (Panama and Costa Rica). The viewership numbers might pick up for the Gold Cup, which will be the first competitive games for the US in 19 months. But if the US doesn’t win and look good doing it, the number will fall off the side of the cliff. Winning is everything, and right now the US is losing the interest of US soccer fans. Winning means more people in the stands and more eyeballs on TV. If US Soccer wants people to start watching again, they better hope that Gregg Berhalter wins big immediately.