Fox Sports and Telemundo have kicked off their coverage of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, hoping to score ratings goals at least equivalent to their successful 2015 campaigns.
The month-long Women’s World Cup tournament began Friday (June 7) in Paris, France, with the U.S. Women’s National Team eager to defend its title against an improved slate of international teams. Fox Sports hopes viewers will be drawn to the tournament on the level of 2015’s edition in Canada, in which the United States team’s cup-winning final game against Japan drew 25.4 million viewers, a U.S. viewing record for a soccer match.
Fox and NBCUniversal-owned Telemundo (Spanish language) have World Cup rights in the United States through 2026.
The Fox broadcast network will offer 22 live World Cup games — up from 15 in 2015 — including the U.S.’s first game against Thailand in Reims on June 11, with the tournament’s other 52 games shown live on FS1 (27) and FS2. The tournament final, in Lyon, on Sunday, July 7, at 11 a.m. ET will be on Fox.
No Time Zone Concerns
While the six-hour time difference between France and the East Coast could pose some ratings challenges, David Neal, executive producer of FIFA World Cup on Fox and Fox Sports vice president of production, said interest in the U.S. team and the growing appeal of women’s soccer should help propel ratings.
“We’re going into the tournament with the task of living up to our own achievements four years ago,” he said. “I think our prospects are good … we’ll see what the numbers end up being, but we’re ready to take on challenges regardless of what the time zone is.”
Overall, Fox Sports will offer more than 800 hours of coverage across linear and digital platforms. With women’s soccer as popular as it’s ever been, Neal is confident the tournament will deliver positive ratings returns for Fox.
“This is a signature moment for women’s soccer worldwide,” he said. “Four years ago, the U.S. was one of four teams that you could make a case for having a legitimate shot at winning. This year, there are at least eight teams that could win the whole thing, so whoever wins this one will take a huge step forward for women’s football.”
Telemundo has the Spanish-language U.S. rights and will also telecast all 52 contests, with 21 matches on Telemundo — double what the broadcast network aired in 2015 — and 24 matches on Universo. Seven games will be shown exclusively on Telemundo digital platforms.
Telemundo Deportes president Ray Warren is aiming for success akin to the 2018 FIFA men’s World Cup in Russia, when Telemundo drew an 80% bilingual audience to its tournament coverage.
Telemundo Deportes also has the annual Copa America tournament, which runs from June 14 through July 7, providing what Warren called a strong one-two punch of daily soccer coverage over most of the next month.
“We’ll have this kind of feeder system for both events where we’ll be promoting Copa América during the Women’s World Cup, and the World Cup in Copa América,” Warren said. “We feel like we have a great opportunity to get this virtuous circle of promotion for both events.”
U.S. Success, or Lack, Will Be Vital
Sports analyst Lee Berke said both Fox and Telemundo could have strong ratings runs for the Women’s World Cup provided that the United States — which also won the tournaments in 1999 and 2003 — progresses well.
“We’ve seen during prior World Cup tournaments that if the men’s and women’s teams make the quarterfinals, the semis and eventually the finals, the ratings go up exponentially,” said Berke. “The women’s team has a great track record for that, and Americans want to follow their national team when its successful. If that happens this year, there’s every reason to believe that [Fox and Telemundo] will have a successful run in the upcoming tournament.”
On the flip side, if the U.S. women should stumble early, it will be very difficult for the networks to generate big audiences due to the lack of high-profile, global female soccer stars.
“What you have going for the men is that there is an increasing awareness of some international players playing for their international team,” Berke added. “On the women’s side, there’s a relatively limited amount of awareness of other top women soccer players in the U.S.”