By Jaime Cardenas - CEO, AC&M Group
The failure of the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals is without question a tremendous setback for U.S. soccer. Millions of disappointed U.S. soccer fans are scratching their heads wondering who is to blame for this catastrophe.
It’s not only fans who are worried, sponsors and advertisers also find themselves contemplating how this development affects their World Cup plans. Some brands might be assuming that not having the U.S. in the World Cup equals less viewership and disappointing ratings. While there might be a group of casual fans that only tune in to soccer every four years to cheer for the USMNT, most American fans will still have plenty of reasons to tune in and enjoy the event. For the large and growing soccer fan base that already exists in the U.S., the World Cup will still be a must-see event on TV and mobile screens – even without the U.S. team.
Here are 4 reasons to be optimistic about American fans tuning in to the 2018 FIFA World Cup:
1. Americans have shown a growing interest in international soccer
Most Americans are already watching non-American properties and leagues over Major League Soccer (MLS), despite most of these teams not fielding American stars. Soccer fandom is, by nature, global. New fans are born every day watching Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi, tuning in to the English Premier League (EPL) (England), La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy), Bundesliga (Germany) and Liga MX (Mexico) despite no real connections to these teams; the quality of play and caliber of players is enough to win their attention and support. Why assume the U.S. not qualifying will keep these fans from tuning in to watch a fantastic German team, a Brazilian team with exciting youth or to see if Messi can become an even greater hero for Argentina?
2. Fans will rally around other allegiances
Most Americans can trace their heritage to some European or Latin American country that has qualified for the World Cup or is fighting to qualify. Who says Americans will not side with Germany, Italy, France, Ireland or another country present in their family lineage? Maybe they’ll just follow their club favorites, such as Paul Pogba, Harry Kane or Neymar. The growing percentage of Hispanics also helps viewership, since they usually have allegiance to their family's country of origin as well.
3. People always tune in to watch the best (even when their team is not it!)
Do people lose interest in the Super Bowl or the NBA finals because their local team didn’t make it? Cities like Dallas or Chicago don’t just ignore the game because it’s the Patriots and the Falcons who are chasing a ring; the NBA Finals are reaching all-time highs for viewership, and it’s not only people from California and Ohio who are tuning in. The World Cup is the Super Bowl of soccer and fans will tune in because even if the U.S. didn’t make it, you get to watch the best players, the traditional powers, the lovable underdogs and history being made. Speaking of Super Bowl, more people tuned into watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup final than the 2016 Super Bowl final (3.2 billion global viewers vs.167 million global viewers). Most people tuning in to both events had seen their teams eliminated far before the big finale.
4. World Cups have proven to be “elimination proof” over and over
The list of countries with huge soccer tradition that have missed a World Cup is long: England (1994) Colombia (2002, 2006 and 2010) and Mexico (1990) to list a few. Those of us that have lived through some of these disappointments can attest to the fact that the World Cup still caught the attention of the nation and became the #1 event in the country in that respective summer. Soccer fans are passionate about the sport and love for the game and will tune in to watch players from all over the world at the international stage.
More than one billion fans tuned in to watch the final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, with the competition reaching a global in-home television audience of 3.2 billion people, according to figures from FIFA and Kantar Media. An estimated 280 million people around the world watched matches online or on a mobile device, a sign that more and more fans are embracing new technology for sports content. The 2014 FIFA World Cup broke several TV audience records in key international markets, including the U.S. Yes, it would have been great to have the U.S. team vying for the Cup in 2018, but the tournament will go on. Fans really don’t need a lot of excuses to tune in to a World Cup.