The final goal has been scored and after a month of nail-biting induced drama, it was Germany who was left standing as World Cup champions.
The 2014 edition of the FIFA World Cup was filled with heavyweights, including Spain, Italy and England, bowing out early and upstarts, Greece, Colombia and Costa Rica, advancing further than ever. The Americans, who faced an uphill climb in the “group of death,” perhaps put themselves on the world soccer map for good with an appearance in the Round of 16.
As we look ahead to Russia in four years, here are five things we learned from the past month in Brazil.
America Is a “Big Event” Culture
As the Olympics prove every two years, it’s not enough for U.S. viewers to root for our countrymen. We want to do it on the biggest stage.
With soccer, there is no bigger stage than the World Cup and this year proved more than ever that American audiences only want to watch the best. All four matches that featured the United States averaged over 14 million viewers on ESPN, which would put them on par with the NBA Finals and World Series.
While the soccer audience in this country has been steadily growing – and should continue – it’s likely that only an event as big as the World Cup will garner that widespread interest that we saw in Brazil.
Time Zones Matter
The host country gave ESPN and Spanish-language broadcaster a major assist with a very TV-friendly time zone, which no doubt helped goose ratings. During the group stage, matches were held at noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on the East Coast.
The only person happier than ESPN president John Skipper was about the ratings might be NBC Sports group chairman Mark Lazarus.
NBC is set to broadcast the Summer Olympics from Rio de Janeiro in two years, and this year’s World Cup showed the benefit of broadcasting from a TV-friendly time zone: Rio is only one hour head of the East Coast.
Having every match air during most American viewers’ day isn’t something thats always a given with international events and we’ll see that more than ever in four years.
The 2018 World Cup will be hosted by Russia, which means most of the matches will air while most Americans are asleep. For example, Moscow is eight hours ahead of the East Coast.
Strong National Team Best Way to Build Sport
We like winners.
Ever since the United States’ surprising run to the quarterfinals during the 2002 World Cup, interest in the National Team – despite the speed bump in 2006 – has compounded every four years, exploding this past month with record audiences for nearly every match.
And you could argue there is nothing more important to the growth of soccer in this country than the continuing improvement of our National Team.
The Americans have now made it out of the group stage three of the last four World Cup, turning that feat into an expectation instead of a hope. The 2018 World Cup might be the first that Team USA enters with real aspirations of competing with the top clubs.
It should not come as a surprise that interest in soccer has coincided with the improvement of Team USA.
Premier League Might Benefit More Than MLS
In April, Major League Soccer signed its biggest media rights deal in its 20-year history with ESPN, Fox and Univision. While that deal doesn’t begin until next year, the league was surely banking on some kind of runover from World Cup interest.
And to be sure, the MLS boasts popular U.S. national team members including captain Clint Dempsey, as well as stand outs Michael Bradley, Chris Wondolowski and Graham Zusi. Australia’s Tim Cahill, who plays for the New York Red Bulls, also had a great tournament; new club NYC FC recently inked Spanish star David Villa as well.
But as has been the case with MLS, the best soccer players ply their trade elsewhere.
The league that could see the biggest viewership bump among American audiences could be English Premier League, which had some 110 of its athletes compete during the World Cup (the MLS had 31, most of which were Americans).
For example, USA goalkeeper-turned-American-hero Tim Howard plays for Everton. NBC, which airs the league in the United States, has already began featuring Howard in its promos for the upcoming season, which begins next month.
With other top players from this year’s World Cup including Robin van Persie, Tim Krul, as well as Team USA members Jozy Altidore and Geoff Cameron, NBC could build on what was a very successful first season.
Fox Will Be Hard Pressed to Match Standard ESPN Set in 2018
The countdown to Russia has begun.
As a lame-duck broadcaster – Fox has media rights beginning next year – ESPN could have mailed in this year’s World Cup. Instead, they went out with a bang, receiving high marks for its coverage over the past month.
In doing so, they set a standard that Fox will be hard-pressed to match.
There has been groaning among soccer fans about Fox taking over for ESPN, with the perhaps the biggest worry being the decision to groom American Gus Johnson – more known for his excitable calls on the basketball court and football field – to be the lead broadcaster for soccer.
ESPN for instance, used much-beloved Englishmen Ian Darke as its lead broadcaster, as there has long been an argument that an American broadcaster would not be able to provide the same analysis and nuance to the broadcast (NBC smartly uses fellow Englishman Arlo White as its lead Premier League broadcaster).
ESPN’s rotating cast of international talent, all of whom provided top-notch analysis for the countries besides the United States, was also a major factor in ESPN receiving the high marks for its coverage.
While Fox will ultimately be judged on how it handles the 2018 World Cup, the network can begin to assuage viewers’ fears in 11 months with the Women’s World Cup, where the United States is considered among the favorites to win. The 2015 tournament will be held in Canada, meaning viewers will have every chance to watch.
With the Copa America in 2016 and the Confederations Cup in 2017 as well, the next three years will give us a glimpse into how Fox will handle the 2018 Cup.
Lets hope they paid attention to ESPN over the past month.