Attendance for the USMNT is down for the fourth straight year. But on the bright side, viewing numbers are up for one important metric: English-language TV ratings. The numbers did increase for three major reasons. One was the fact that the US went to the Gold Cup Final (but still lost to Mexico). Second, the US played Mexico twice in the same year. And third, it was the first time the US Men’s National Team had played actual competitive games that mattered in 18 months. Ratings were up for the US in 2019 over 2018.
While the ratings were up from 2018, that doesn’t mean that things are super rosy on that front. In 2015, English-language TV ratings were 728,550 viewers per game over the course of 20 games. In 2016, that number rose 33% to 965,842 (six of those games were during the Copa America Centenario). However, the next year the TV viewing numbers fell slightly to 819,842 viewers per game through 19 games, a drop of 15%.
The year 2018 saw the numbers fall off the side of a mountain as they dropped all the way down to a paltry 431,818 viewers per game for 11 games. That’s a drop of an astounding 47% (missing the World Cup and playing only friendlies can have that effect). But in 2019, TV viewing numbers rose up to 737,944 viewers per game for 18 games, an increase of 71%. It’s also encouraging to look and see that ratings are up when compared to the concurrent year in the previous cycle. The jump from 2015 to 2019 was 728,550 to 737,944. That’s just an increase of 1%, but the federation and the TV partners are desperate for some good news so there it is.
Here’s the full list of the English language TV ratings for the USMNT in 2019.
1. 7/7/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Mexico – FS1 – 2,880,000
2. 6/30/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Curacao – FS1 – 1,547,000
3. 7/3/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Jamaica – FS1 – 1,139,000
4. 6/9/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Venezuela – FOX – 1,037,000
5. 6/22/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago – FS1 – 895,000
6. 6/26/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Panama – FS1 – 893,000
7. 6/18/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Guyana – FS1 – 744,000
8. 2/2/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Costa Rica – FOX – 652,000
9. 3/26/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Chile – ESPN2 – 552,000
10. 1/27/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Panama – ESPN2 – 545,000
11. 3/21/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Ecuador – ESPN2 – 419,000
12. 9/6/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Mexico – FS1 – 386,000
13. 11/15/19 – Nations League – USA vs. Canada – ESPN2 – 352,000
14. 10/15/19 – Nations League – USA @ Canada – ESPN2 – 323,000
15. 6/5/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Jamaica – FS1 – 284,000
16. 9/10/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Uruguay – FS1 – 245,000
17. 11/19/19 – Nations League – USA vs. Cuba* – FS1 – 233,000
18. 10/11/19 – Nations League – USA vs. Cuba – FS1 – 157,000
Total Viewership: 13,283,000
Average Viewership: 737,944
*denotes game played at neutral site
The biggest thing that is easily noticeable is that FOX Sports, once again, has a near monopoly on the USMNT. Of the 18 games this year, FOX Sports aired 13 of them. And of the ten competitive games that the US played, FOX Sports aired eight of them. It’s also worth noting that when ESPN and FOX Sports each air one game during an international window, the ESPN game almost always draws better than the FOX Sports game. For example, this year neither Nations League game that aired on FOX Sports drew a higher audience than either of the two Nations League games that aired on ESPN.
FOX Sports does however need to be commended for their decision to put two friendly games on the over-the-air FOX netwwork. That was something that hasn’t happened too often over the years and they were rewarded with over a million viewers for one of those games.
Speaking of games that drew over a million viewers, it was also very nice to see US games hitting the million-viewer mark again. After having zero games get there in 2018, four games hit that mark this year (and one got all the way to the 2 million-viewer mark).
TV viewing numbers going up is a good thing, no doubt. But truth be told, they really had nowhere to go but up after the disaster that was 2018. The question now is can the viewing numbers be sustained or will they take another tumble in 2020? With only Nations League play and World Cup Qualifying next year, it remains difficult to see how that can be the case (especially with no special Copa America or Gold Cup). For now though, US Soccer and their TV partners will take what they can get and hope for the best in the future.