The World Cup has just passed the halfway mark of the first round of play, and U.S. television viewership data from Nielsen show a 44 percent drop compared to 2014.
As of Wednesday, the games on Fox have averaged 1.98 million viewers, a noticeable decline compared to the 3.55 million average viewers ESPN had during the 2014 World Cup.
NBC Universal’s Telemundo, which partnered with Fox for the U.S. television rights to the World Cup, has averaged 1.87 million Spanish-language viewers compared with 3.3 million on Univision, according to Bloomberg.
A variety of factors has contributed to the viewership decline since the last World Cup. With the U.S. soccer team failing to qualify for the tournament for the first time since 1986, Fox cannot count on comparable viewership. For example, 9.7 million Americans tuned into ESPN on a Monday evening in 2014 to watch the U.S. go against Ghana in the first round, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Another factor is the time difference. Played this year in Russia, games start as early as 3 a.m. in the U.S. and no later than noon on the West Coast. The World Cup also has had to compete with the U.S. Open golf tournament, which took place last weekend and drew about 2.9 million viewers, according to CNN.
Sports media consultant Chris Bevilacqua told Bloomberg: “These numbers aren’t necessarily a shock. This is probably along the lines of what the networks thought was going to happen once the U.S. failed to qualify.”
From the start of the World Cup, television viewership and ratings have shifted. The opener featuring Russia and Saudi Arabia on June 15 got a 1.6 average in metered markets, nearly half that of the 2014 opener with Brazil and Croatia, which received a 3.4, according to Nielsen Media Research.
After Mexico’s 1-0 win over Germany and the 1-1 draw with Brazil and Switzerland, Fox Sports reported FS1 had set their network viewership record with 4,086,000 from the Brazil-Switzerland game, and the first four days of the tournament averaged 2,241,000 viewers from their two networks (FS1 and Fox), which was up 32 percent over the complete Group Stage average from the last four World Cups combined, excluding U.S. matches that drew over 11.1 million viewers, according to ESPN.
Fox and Telemundo hold the TV rights for the World Cup through 2026, when the United States along with Mexico and Canada will be joint hosts for the tournament.