USMNT viewing audiences for 2014-17 World Cup qualifying cycle

The decline in the TV ratings for the USMNT from year to year has been a reality check for many US soccer fans and the US Soccer Federation. The ratings in 2015 were down to 728,550 from an average of 4,306,933 in 2014, though somewhat understandably as there is always going to be a big drop-off after a World Cup year.

In 2016, the numbers saw them go up to 965,842 as the Copa America Centenario was being played. But in 2017 it fell to 819,842 and then fell again in 2018 to a paltry 431,818 (failing to qualify for the World Cup tends to have that effect).

But international soccer is not measured on a year by year basis. It is typically measured in terms of a four year cycle in between World Cups. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the TV ratings for the full cycle for the USMNT from September 2014 to when the USA men’s team failed to qualify for the World Cup in October 2017. Please note that these figures only include English language viewership.

9/3/14 – Friendly – Czech Republic vs. USA – NBCSN – 182,000
10/10/14 – Friendly – USA vs. Ecuador – ESPN – 658,000
10/14/14 – Friendly – USA vs. Honduras – ESPN – 707,000
11/14/14 – Friendly – USA vs. Colombia* – ESPN – 443,000
11/18/14 – Friendly – Republic of Ireland vs. USA – ESPN2 – 609,000
1/28/15 – Friendly – Chile vs. USA – FS1 – 254,000
2/8/15 – Friendly – USA vs. Panama – ESPN – 674,000
3/25/15 – Friendly – Denmark vs. USA – ESPN – 400,000
3/31/15 – Friendly – Switzerland vs. USA – FS1 – 261,000
4/15/15 – Friendly – USA vs. Mexico – FS1 – 806,000
6/5/15 – Friendly – Netherlands vs. USA – ESPN – 680,000
6/10/15 – Friendly – Germany vs. USA – FS1 – 668,000
7/3/15 – Friendly – USA vs. Guatemala – FS1 – 469,000
7/7/15 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Honduras – FS1 – 986,000
7/10/15 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Haiti – FS1 – 1,035,000
7/13/15 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Panama – FS1 – 1,085,000
7/18/15 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Cuba – FOX – 1,537,000
7/22/15 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Jamaica – FS1 – 1,231,000
7/25/15 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Panama – FS2 – 290,000
9/4/15 – Friendly – USA vs. Peru – FS1 – 445,000
9/8/15 – Friendly – USA vs. Brazil – ESPN2 – 1,012,000
10/10/15 – CONCACAF Cup – USA vs. Mexico – FS1 – 1,560,000
10/13/15 – Friendly – USA vs. Costa Rica – ESPN – 505,000
11/13/15 – WCQ – USA vs. St. Vincent & the Grenadines – ESPN2 – 491,000
11/17/15 – WCQ – Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA – beIN SPORTS – 182,000
1/31/16 – Friendly – USA vs. Iceland – ESPN2 – 531,000
2/5/16 – Friendly – USA vs. Canada – FS1 – 294,000
3/25/16 – WCQ – Guatemala vs. USA – beIN SPORTS – 162,000
3/29/16 – WCQ – USA vs. Guatemala – ESPN2 – 954,000
5/22/16 – Friendly – Puerto Rico vs. USA – FS1 – 304,000
5/25/16 – Friendly – USA vs. Ecuador – ESPN2 – 429,000
5/28/16 – Friendly – USA vs. Bolivia – FS1 – 454,000
6/3/16 – Copa America – USA vs. Colombia – FS1 – 1,536,000
6/7/16 – Copa America – USA vs. Costa Rica – FS1 – 1,600,000
6/11/16 – Copa America – USA vs. Paraguay – FS1 – 2,061,000
6/16/16 – Copa America – USA vs. Ecuador – FS1 – 2,132,000
6/21/16 – Copa America – USA vs. Argentina – FS1 – 3,290,000
6/25/16 – Copa America – USA vs. Colombia – FX – 1,670,000
9/2/16 – WCQ – St. Vincent & the Grenadines vs. USA – beIN SPORTS – 95,000
9/6/16 – WCQ – USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago – FS1 – 550,000
10/7/16 – Friendly – Cuba vs. USA – ESPN2 – 232,000
10/11/16 – Friendly – USA vs. New vs. USA Zealand – ESPN – 554,000
11/11/16 – WCQ – USA vs. Mexico – FS1 – 1,262,000
11/15/16 – WCQ – Costa Rica vs. USA – beIN SPORTS – 241,000
1/29/17 – Friendly – USA vs. Serbia – ESPN2 – 596,000
2/3/17 – Friendly – USA vs. Jamaica – FS1 – 338,000
3/24/17 – WCQ – USA vs. Honduras – FS1 – 579,000
3/28/17 – WCQ – Panama vs. USA – beIN SPORTS – 281,000
6/3/17 – Friendly – USA vs. Venezuela – FS1 – 492,000
6/8/17 – WCQ – USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago – FS1 – 797,000
6/11/17 – WCQ – Mexico vs. USA – FS1 – 2,052,000
7/1/17 – Friendly – USA vs. Ghana – ESPN – 748,000
7/8/17 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Panama – FOX – 1,212,000
7/12/17 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Martinique – FS1 – 800,000
7/16/17 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Nicaragua – FXX – 657,000
7/19/17 – Gold Cup – USA vs. El Salvador – FS1 – 1,050,000
7/22/17 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Costa Rica – FS1 – 1,094,000
7/26/17 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Jamaica – FS1 – 1,772,000
9/1/17 – WCQ – USA vs. Costa Rica – ESPN – 1,069,000
9/5/17 – WCQ – Honduras vs. USA – beIN SPORTS – 256,000
10/6/17 – WCQ – USA vs. Panama – ESPN2 – 1,152,000
10/10/17 – WCQ – Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA – beIN SPORTS – 463,000

Total Viewership: 51,229,000
Average Viewership: 826,274
*denotes game played at a neutral site

That’s a lot of data to digest but several things jump out. First, the games that air on beIN SPORTS always draw extremely low numbers due to the channel not being widely available to many people (and with their current carriage dispute with Comcast and DIRECTV still ongoing, that’s unlikely to get any better any time soon). However, that’s not so much a US Soccer issue as it is a CONCACAF/FIFA issue regarding what networks can broadcast away games in World Cup qualifying. The number may be low and hurt the average, but it’s better than the alternative from just a few years ago when the road games during qualifying could not be found on TV at all.

Second, during this period, FOX Sports pretty much had a monopoly on competitive games for the US. While ESPN has gotten their fair share of friendlies, FOX has owned the games that mattered. Of the 35 competitive games during the previous cycle, FOX Sports aired 24 of them, beIN SPORTS aired 7 of them, and ESPN aired just 4 of them. One has to wonder if the fact that FOX Sports pretty much just cheerleads for the US while ESPN has pundits who are critical of the team whether the federation has something to do with that. It’s also worth noting that when ESPN and FOX Sports each have a friendly during a FIFA window, the games on ESPN routinely outdraw the ones on FOX.

One thing that FOX Sports has done that has been a disappointment is the lack of games on their over-the-air network. Over the course of this last cycle, they aired just two games on FOX. So far during the current cycle they have already hit one (the recent home friendly against Costa Rica) and even back in 2013 they put three games on FOX (all during the Gold Cup). It should be noted that had the US qualified for the World Cup, it’s a good bet that most, if not all, of their games would have been on big FOX. But while they made the decision to only air two games over the air, they also made the bizarre decision to air games on other FOX properties that were not part of the FOX Sports umbrella: FX and FXX. This was an odd choice because while FX mainly airs re-runs of movies like Deepwater Horizon or Taken, and FXX is the home of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, neither one of them had aired many sporting events before. The theory behind it is that it would help grow the audiences for those channels, but all it really did was to hurt the total viewership for the US.

A more positive note was the number of games during the previous cycle that drew over 1 million viewers. Of the 62 games the US played, 19 of them drew over 1 million viewers. Of those 19, four of them drew over 2 million viewers and one of those four managed to crack the 3 million viewer mark. That is quite impressive for that many games to draw that many viewers without the benefit of a World Cup to help boost those numbers.

So that’s a look at the previous cycle’s TV ratings. There are certainly things that US Soccer and the networks can do to improve the ratings but obviously the biggest thing that needs to happen is for the team to win a lot of games for a long time and get to the World Cup. Nothing boosts number like the World Cup and nothing causes ratings to drop quite like losing a lot and missing the World Cup. For some perspective, during the current cycle (from November 2017 through March 2019) the US has played 16 games with a viewership total of 7,084,000 and an average of 442,750 which is 46% lower than the average from 2014-2017. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but it shows that interest in the team is at a low point due to failing to qualify for Russia 2018. If the US wants its ratings to go back up, they need to start winning and winning big.

One Response

  1. Ned Stark April 24, 2019

Leave a Reply to Ned Stark Cancel reply