Lost in the rancor of the United States men’s national team’s soft-shoe-shuffle exit from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and raging, raging at Panamanian joy?
Countless fans yes, but also Fox Entertainment Group, owner of President Donald Trump’s television news network of choice.
It was Fox, remember, that paid more than $400 million for the television rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, with the expectation that the USMNT would be there. Fox won a bidding war with ESPN for those two competitions. “The World Cup is still the greatest sporting event on earth,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks told > Sports Illustrated at the start of October, “but clearly for us it’s a different tournament if the U.S. isn’t in it.”
Ouch. The U.S. ended up missing out on its first World Cup since Mexico 1986 on Wednesday night, defeat to Trinidad and Tobago in Couva combined with a goal that almost certainly never was for Panama against Costa Rica sending Bruce Arena’s team tumbling into a snake pit of bad headlines and morbid self-reflection.
As for Fox? In a coruscating review, > Bloomberg points out that the network has scheduled 350 hours of programming for the tournament in Russia next summer. That would have been a sound investment based on the 2014 edition, when the USMNT made it out of the group stages before losing to Belgium in the Round of 16. Then, Bloomberg points out, ESPN saw its ratings “soar.”
“How far the team [USMNT] advances will be key,” >Forbes wrote in a 2014 piece analyzing the ratings for the 2014 tournament, and looking ahead to the 2018 edition. That piece included the note that ESPN, and parent company Disney, benefited from being aligned with Brazilian time zones. That won’t be the case in Russia.
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Can Fox save its investment? There’s no doubt that the World Cup, the most prominent global sporting event, will still attract interest in the United States even without the USMNT. The 2014 final between Germany and Argentina was the third most-watched soccer game in the United States of all time, with 17.324 million viewers.
How many of those, though, were left over or energized into watching by the USMST’s success may be a problem for Fox. There is one solution, perhaps, to paper over the cracks. Far ahead of the U.S. in CONCACAF qualifying, Mexico finished top of the group and qualified with ease. Fox could take advantage of the vast Mexican diaspora in the U.S. and focus its programming on El Tri. Of course, that would mean potentially angering Trump, who has been winding up Mexico since the start of his presidential run and may finally be finished by the summer of 2018 with his brawl with the NFL. Fox may just have to turn south of the border to salvage its World Cup.
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