Jon Hamm appears in ads for car insurance, tax prep, and luxury cars. Can he sell us on watching a World Cup sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas? 

Advertising is a key catalyst for the normalization of new behavior. It’s why Meta spent around $13 million on a Super Bowl ad. Similarly, it is why Hamm, a mega Hollywood star, features as a silver fox Santa. He is FOX’s attempt to normalize watching the World Cup during a hectic holiday season.

As FOX Sports President of Marketing Robert Gottlieb explained, “The 2022 World Cup is historic and unique because it’s the first time the tournament will take place during the holiday season, and our creative campaign featuring some of today’s biggest stars is focused on letting people know just how special this moment will be.” 

Soccer fans don’t need the reminder. They traditionally watch fixtures on frosty November and December mornings. But, FOX needs far more than the few hundred thousand who watch Premier League matches to tune in for this World Cup.

FOX needs all those casual soccer fans who ordinarily spend early December mornings adjusting their fantasy NFL lineups or searching Target’s shelves for the season’s most sought-after gifts like the Baby Yoda squishmallow to tune in. Therefore, it is important for FOX to make its message more about when the World Cup is. As of now, it focuses on the stars and squads of the World Cup. rather than the World Cup itself. 

Challenges for FOX’s World Cup viewership in Qatar

And it’s not just ordinary daily life at this time of year getting in the way of big viewership for FOX. This World Cup is fighting for attention against college football, college basketball, NFL, NBA, and NHL. That’s a far cry from only going up against regular season baseball in the summer. 

While World Cup matches won’t overlap with American football, basketball, and hockey because of early kickoff times, sports fans have only so much bandwidth and freedom to watch games. A fan might prioritize their NFL or college team’s big late season game if they only have a few hours of free time to play with. 

How have other temporally displaced sporting events fared with regards to viewership? The ones postponed during the depths of the pandemic give us some insight.  

Reasons for Pessimism

The NBA Finals are a springtime staple that welcomes in the summer. But, in 2020 the Finals switched over to October. The series between the Lakers and Heat averaged only 7.5 million viewers. This figure represented a 51% drop from 2019. One year later, the 2021 NBA Finals averaged almost 10 million viewers, much closer to the traditional figures. This is in spite of the fact that the two teams, Milwaukee and Phoenix, come from much smaller markets than Los Angeles and Miami.

Tampa Bay beat Dallas in the the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Like the NBA, that postseason pushed back to the fall instead of June. Viewership fell from an average of 5.5 million in 2019 to 2.15 million

The Masters golf tournament is “a tradition unlike any other.” However, the 2020 edition in November saw its ratings sink to an all-time low.

Similarly, the Tokyo Olympics which were held in 2021 instead of 2020 were NBC’s least-watched since it began broadcasting the competition in 1998. 

Reasons for Optimism

Of course, many were understandably not in the mood to watch sports in 2020 and into 2021. But the 2020 World Series, played at its normal late October time, didn’t suffer as big a viewership drop versus 2019 as the above events. And the 2020 NFL regular season, held at its normal time on fall Sundays, only experienced a slight viewership decrease. 

What should give FOX the most hope is that recent temporally displaced soccer events did well. The 2020 Champions League final moved to August. Yet, it performed better than the 2019 edition. The latest Euros waited a whole year, going from 2020 to 2021, even though it remained Euro 2020. Despite the hiatus, the tournament drew far more viewers than its predecessor in 2016. Plus, the 2021 Euro Final was the most watched ever.

Kickoff times are massively important as well. The kickoff times for this World Cup will be similar to the ones from the 2018 World Cup, so it will be interesting to see if the current edition will surpass 2018 for viewership. The 2014 World Cup, with its average kickoff time of around 2 p.m. ET, remains the most watched World Cup in American broadcast history by far. 

There’s only so much an ad campaign can do in the face of kickoff time convenience and the hustle and bustle of holiday season. Now it’s time to see if the World Cup matches themselves will draw hefty viewership. 

Photo credit: IMAGO / Icon Sportswire

Guide to World Cup 2022

Here are some resources to help you get the most out of the biggest event in soccer!
TV Schedule: All the info on where and when to watch every game
The Groups: We breakdown each group and all the teams
The Kits: Check out what every team will be wearing on the field this fall
Predictor: Play out every scenario with our World Cup Predictor
World Cup Bracket: Map out the entire tournament, from the groups to the final