World Cup Punctuates Beautiful Game’s Banner Year in Business

Across North America, the World Cup put an exclamation point on soccer’s big year in business, pleasing its passionate fanbase while delivering rising numbers and growing excitement among more casual fans.

As we flip the calendar to 2023 — a year that will have a Women’s World Cup, expansion in both MLS and NWSL, two women’s professional leagues in the plans and the looming specter of the next Men’s World Cup coming to North America in 2026 — it is time for a bit of a victory lap for the “Beautiful Game.”

See our recent Q&A with WISL’s Lynn Berlin-Manuel around the DII pro league’s 2024 debut here

No. 1 Men’s World Cup by the numbers

Sunday’s epic final match featuring Lionel Messi‘s Argentina national team pipping Kylian Mbappe‘s French squad drew one of the biggest soccer audiences ever in the U.S., averaging 25.78 million viewers, with Fox Sports drawing 16.78 million viewers, while Telemundo’s Spanish-language telecast, which also streamed on Peacock, averaged 9 million cross-platform viewers. That U.S. audience average ranks second all time for any soccer match behind only the 2015 Women’s World Cup final which saw 26.7 million take in the U.S. women defeating Japan in Vancouver.

Sunday’s final continued the upward trend in TV viewing for the 2022 World Cup. The group stage averaged about 5.6 million viewers across Fox Sports and Telemundo/Peacock, with Fox’s English-language broadcasts up 38 percent over 2018.

Fox’s telecast also outdrew NFL games on CBS (14.83 million for its early broadcast window on Sunday) and NBC (15.38 million for Sunday Night Football). The cross-platform audience was bigger than any NFL game over the weekend.

Vision Insights’ research shows that World Cup viewers came away happy with the broadcasts

And not only did the game do well in viewers, but according to a survey from fan insights firm Vision Insights this week, U.S. viewers were quite satisfied with the Fox broadcast domestically, as 80 percent of U.S. viewers provided a positive rating for the broadcast. Interestingly, 60 percent of viewers said there was “a good mix” of attention given to off-field topics associated with host Qatar and 35% saying there was “more than enough” attention given to off-field topics. In other words, only 5 percent of viewers wanted more attention given to off-field topics.

“At the end of the day, what we learned was that Fox hit it out of the park when it came to balancing the matches and the off-field buzz surrounding the World Cup,” explained Chris Todd, SVP, Sales & Marketing, Vision Insights. “And lastly, we learned that most fans thought the right amount of attention was given to the issues surrounding the tournament.”

Domestic leagues post successful 2022 numbers as well

Then we have MLS and NWSL, which both hit high watermarks for their season championships on broadcast TV. The NWSL topped out at 915,000 viewers for their final match on CBS, the first prime time broadcast final in the league’s 10 year history, while MLS Cup peaked at 1.14 million on ABC for the epic title match between LAFC and the Philadelphia Union.

Tack on MLS’ new deal with Apple+ launching on Feb 1, a robust expansion process that adds soccer mad St. Louis in 2023 and the labor peace and growing interest in franchises around the NWSL under first-year commissioner Jessica Berman, and the future continues to shine bright on the pro ranks on this side of the Atlantic.

View TMR’s latest Fan Cost Index, the 2022 MLS FCI, here

And it’s not just that more people are watching. Partnership folks should take note that it’s not NASCAR fans who are the most engaged with their team sponsors. Vision Insights’ recent research into positive emotional response to sponsorship (between Oct 1 and Nov 30) found that across LPGA, MLB, MLS, NASCAR, NCAA, NFL, NHL, NWSL, PGA Tour and WNBA, the NWSL performed best of all of the properties (tied with the LPGA) in positive emotional response to sponsorship and positive actions taken after witnessing sponsorship activation.

Next best positive response to sponsorship activation after the NWSL? Their soccer brethren, MLS.

Appears as though soccer partnership folks may be on to something…(With the WNBA next, three of the top four properties were women’s leagues. But that’s a story for another day.)

Private firms like FSV continue to invest

But wait! There’s more!

The positive news around the sport continued this past week For Soccer Ventures, a media and experiences company spearheading a collaborative movement to connect brands, players, fans, families and platforms to the diverse American soccer community, announced the third consecutive year of record growth, with a 600% increase in revenue since the pandemic for the company, which was founded by Union owner Richie Graham.

The Black Star Initiative has gained traction in multiple markets, including Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, providing Black Americans access to coaching and player development opportunities

FSV’s success away from the professional pitch includes expansive grassroots initiatives with The Black Star Initiative, a platform accelerating the growth and popularity of soccer in Black American communities, and Alianza de Futbol, which provides programs and learning programs for thousands of Latino youth across the U.S., the largest program of its kind.

That’s in addition to brand growth being seen by the likes of BodyArmor and their MLS All-Star Activation, Allstate and the “Allstate Sueno Alianza” (with Alianza de Futbol) which gives thousands of players the opportunity to be scouted by professional and national teams as well as colleges and universities, a partnership with Men in Blazers to represent their iconic brand and continued to build on partnerships with Umbro, Topps, and adidas and other initiatives with brands like Chevron and launched a new program with CVS Health.

“While the just completed FIFA Men’s World Cup certainly helped raise awareness and engagement for soccer, it was just the culmination of a year where we saw partnerships soar everywhere from grassroots, to community impact and media, to brand engagement,” said Heath Pearce, President, FSV. “2023 is shaping up to be an epic year for soccer across North America with the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the debut of the Leagues Cup—which will feature all of the clubs from MLS and Liga MX in a completely reimagined, month-long, World Cup-style tournament.”

A big year behind us, and another one for global futbol ahead.

Header photo: NWSL

Chris brings deep sports business experience to his role as publisher of TMR. He first put his sales, experiential marketing, PR, sales and valuation skills to work in sporting goods retail in 1986. He has since worked for brands and agencies across all major league sports, plus golf, college athletics, marathons and motorsports. Chris is also the proud founder of Painless Networking.