Now that the World Cup Draw is complete, it’s time to analyze the pros and cons of the World Cup TV schedule. After all, a lot is known already. That is even before the TV schedule is officially confirmed by FOX Sports.
For instance, FIFA has finalized the kickoff times and schedule. Telemundo has already confirmed its TV schedule. Plus, we also know the countries participating. All that’s left is for FOX Sports to decide what channels to utilize for the games. Even then, those details are subject to change for a myriad of different reasons. That sometimes happens even after the tournament begins.
Suffice to say, everything is subject to change.
What we know so far
The 2022 World Cup takes place in Qatar, which is eight hours ahead of United States’ East Coast. As a result, the kickoff times for the majority of Group Stage games are 5AM, 8AM, 11AM and 2PM ET.
On television, live games in English-language are shown across FOX, FS1 and FS2. Spanish-language games are available across Telemundo and Universo. In fact, 56 games will air live on Telemundo. Only the eight concurrent Group Stage finale games will air on Universo. In total, the 64 games will be live in Spanish on television and streaming.
For cord cutters, Peacock Premium will be streaming every World Cup game in Spanish. FOX Sports has not yet announced their streaming plans.
Pros and cons of the World Cup TV schedule
Let’s start with the benefits of the 2022 World Cup TV schedule.
First, each of the three Group Stage games featuring the United States kick off at 2PM ET. The matches are on a Monday (versus either Ukraine, Scotland or Wales), Friday (against England) and a Tuesday (versus Iran). While weekend matches are preferable, the Friday game against England is on Black Friday. That’s traditionally a day when many workers have a day off. Overall, all three games should generate significant viewing numbers, especially for FOX Sports.
Second, the World Cup Draw has produced several tantalizing games, on paper at least. For instance, on November 27, Spain hosts Germany in a game between two powerhouses in world soccer. A day earlier, it’s Mexico against Argentina. If the 2006 game between the two countries is anything to go by, it should be a thriller. We have the aforementioned England against United States on Black Friday. Plus there’s Portugal versus Uruguay. That match could feature Cristiano Ronaldo going up against Luis Suarez.
Plus, you have a Thanksgiving Day 2022 treat of Portugal-Ghana, Brazil-Serbia, Uruguay-South Korea and Switzerland-Cameroon.
Strong start to the World Cup
Third, the way that the schedule has been set, it flows very well for broadcasters despite the morning start times. In a peculiarity of this year’s competition, host Qatar doesn’t play the first game of the tournament. That’s to the advantage of broadcasters because the more attractive fixture of Senegal-Netherlands starts the competition instead. Albeit, at five o’clock in the morning for viewers on the East Coast.
Having said that, the first day of action does include the United States in its debut game. England playing that day also should generate a lot of interest. Day two includes Mexico, current World Cup champions France and Argentina (starring Leo Messi). Day three includes intriguing matches for Germany, Belgium and Spain. And so on and so forth. By having the U.S. on opening day, and then big games continuing after that, it should hold most people’s attention from the start. That will certainly be the hope of FOX and Telemundo, who are looking at the soccer TV ratings very closely.
Fourth and finally, despite World Cup 2022 not having a “Group of Death,” the tournament is very balanced in every one of the eight groups. That will increase the likelihood that most games will go down to the final day of Group Stage matchups. Plus, the balanced groups should avoid any major blow-outs. The matches are finely balanced, ultimately making it more competitive.
FOX and Telemundo face several obstacles
First, the scheduling of the competition in November and December instead of the customary summer months is a major issue. It was such an issue that when FIFA made the decision, FOX Sports threatened to sue FIFA for changing it. For U.S. viewers, the months of November to December are synonymous with the NFL, World Series and other American sports leagues. Having a soccer tournament played in a very busy sports calendar for Americans is not ideal, by any means.
Still, FOX threatening to sue FIFA did result in the American broadcaster reaping a big benefit. Namely, FIFA let FOX Sports acquire the rights to the 2026 FIFA World Cup without competitors being allowed to bid. This was before a decision was reached to award the hosting of the 2026 competition to North America. By threatening FIFA, FOX has acquired the rights to arguably the most lucrative soccer tournament ever on US television.
World Cup will be a TV ratings challenge
For Qatar 2022, FOX Sports will find it very difficult to turn World Cup 2022 into a TV ratings juggernaut. As a result, it’s more important than ever for the United States to go deep in this competition.
FOX Sports will want to beat the 2018 World Cup TV ratings. Russia 2018 averaged 4.6 million viewers per game. Compared to the previous tournaments, the 2014 World Cup averaged approximately 8.1 million viewers combined on the ESPN and Univision networks.
Finally, the biggest challenge that FOX Sports faces is the World Cup Final. The game is on Sunday December 18, 2022, beginning at 10AM ET. That conflicts with FOX’s coverage of the NFL. However, there have been discussions that the NFL may adjust its schedule that day to accommodate the FIFA World Cup.
Competing with the NFL for attention
Overall, the 2022 FIFA World Cup will end up being a bridge too far for both FOX Sports and Telemundo. It’s tough enough that broadcasters face the herculean task of enticing viewers to tune in from 5AM to 4PM ET. If the competition was during the summer, that would be one thing. But having the competition clash with American football, at a key point in the NFL season, is an insurmountable task. The best FOX and Telemundo can hope for is winning new fans to get them ready for World Cup 2026. At least that competition will be in the summer in timezones that are favorable to American viewers.
Photo credit: SOPA Images / Contributor
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