FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, is certainly looking for some positive news after two weeks of scandal and allegations of corruption took a toll on its image.
It might just get it this week, especially here in the United States.
The Women’s World Cup opened in Canada on Saturday, starting a month-long tournament to decide the best women’s soccer team in the world. (By the way, the U.S. team won its first game against Australia Monday night.)
Like its men’s counterpart, which was held in Brazil last year, it’s the most prestigious international women’s soccer tournament and it draws big crowds of supporters in host countries.
Its viewership has been up and down in the U.S. over the years, however, despite the national team’s victories in 1991 and 1999. But there are plenty of reason to believe that this year’s tournament can draw an American television audience as well as fill up the Canadian stands.
Bloomberg looked at several in an article on Monday, reporting that Fox Sports, broadcasting its first-ever World Cup, has spent $15 million in marketing the tournament and has had 3,500 ad spots on its network since January. The LA Times reports that Fox is “going all in” with its coverage of the tournament, devoting 200 hours of airtime to broadcast every one of the 52 games live.
That means there are plenty opportunities for casual sports fans to develop interest in the tournament. There will also be plenty of opportunities for passionate fans to keep track of their favorite teams and players as well.
There’s no question the network believes that pushing the broadcast could bring a payoff with the tournament. It paid $425 million to broadcast both the men’s and women’s World Cups through 2026, according to Bloomberg.
If the U.S. team repeats the success it’s had in the past, Fox could see some ratings success as well. In the last two trips to the World Cup final for the U.S. women’s team, more than 10 million Americans watched the final game each time — 13.5 million in 2011 and 18 million in 1999.
The U.S. hosted the tournament in 1999. With the tournament in Canada this year, a trip to the final could bring back those big numbers since the time difference is a lot friendlier for the American audience. Bloomberg also points out that American fans are more likely to travel north to see games since they’re so close to home.
But no matter how hard Fox pushes the broadcast or how close the games are to fans in this country, the investment still carries a bit of a gamble.
Dan Levy at Awful Announcing makes the case that expanding the tournament’s audience beyond regular fans isn’t an easy thing to do. Big matches for the U.S. team certainly mean a lot of viewers, but it hasn’t done much for the rest of the broadcasts involving foreign teams, which have consistently scored lower ratings here in the past.
World Cups are big international events and they always spark a conversation about the popularity of the game here in the U.S.
With Fox putting so much into its first World Cup broadcast, try and gauge the excitement in your area. Supporters usually gather for big matches at sports bars and at special watch parties. Find any scheduled in your area and see how many people turn out to watch the women’s matches. Are there many new fans attending for the first time? Ask local bars and restaurants if they notice any difference between the support for the men’s and women’s teams.