As the U.S. advances on a title defense, Women's World Cup ratings soar
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup has been putting up big numbers for Fox Sports, and if the United States squad can get past England in Tuesday’s semifinal match, advertisers are all but assured that a massive audience will tune in for the July 7 final.
According to Nielsen live-same-day data, the U.S. team’s 2-1 victory over France on Friday averaged 6.12 million viewers and a 3.7 household rating on Fox, making it the fifth most-watched Women’s World Cup match on record. Despite kicking off at 3 p.m. EDT, the France-U.S. showdown out-delivered 61 of this year’s 76 NBA playoff games, a tally that includes three of the six Eastern Conference Finals telecasts on TNT.
Friday’s quarterfinal peaked at 8.24 million viewers. In addition to the outsized linear TV audience, the France-U.S. match also averaged a record 211,000 streaming viewers.
Both U.S. goals were scored by co-captain Megan Rapinoe who, after her second shot rocketed past the French keeper, struck a triumphant pose that birthed ten thousand memes. Having put four balls into the net in the last two games, Rapinoe is now tied with teammate Alex Morgan and England’s Ellen White for first place in the race for the Golden Boot. All three players have scored five goals since the tourney began.
In a perfect world, France and the U.S. would have met up in the final. Instead, the defending champs on Tuesday will take on a somewhat lesser European squad in England, whose all-time record against the Yanks is a meager 4-10-2. Oddsmakers list the USWNT as a -120 favorite—in other words, a $120 wager would yield a $100 in profits—while the Lionesses are the underdog at +310 (risk $100 to walk away with $310).
Should the U.S. triumph over the English, they await a decisive meeting with Netherlands or Sweden. The Dutch earned their first semifinals berth with a 2-0 win over Italy, while Sweden, which fell to the USWNT in the final match of the group stage by the same margin, stunned Germany in the quarterfinals.
For Fox and its advertisers, the ultimate measure of success or failure in this year’s World Cup depends entirely on whether or not the Americans will suit up for the final. In 2015, the USA’s 5-2 victory over Japan averaged a staggering 25.4 million viewers and a 12.9 household rating on Fox, which stands as the biggest turnout for a soccer game in U.S. TV history. According to Standard Media Index estimates, advertisers forked over an average unit cost of $369,574 a pop for each 30-second spot that aired in the 2015 final.
That primetime broadcast was up significantly compared to the 2011 final, which kicked off at 4:45 p.m. EDT on ABC. Per Nielsen, some 13.5 million viewers tuned in as the U.S. fell to Japan on penalty kicks. Going back even further into the archives, the 1999 final, which saw the Americans edge China on PKs, averaged 18 million viewers and an 11.4 rating on ESPN.
On the rare occasions in which the U.S. has failed to make it to the title tilt, the TV audience all but pulls a D.B. Cooper. Fewer than one million people woke up early enough to catch Germany’s 2-0 blanking of Brazil in 2007—as it took place in Shanghai, soccer fans on the West Coast would’ve had to arise at 4 a.m. to watch the full match—and only 1.6 million viewers were sufficiently motivated to tune in for the Germany-Sweden final in 2003. The U.S. finished third in both World Cups; the thing about bandwagons is it’s really easy to hop off of them.
According to iSpot.tv estimates, the top advertisers in Fox’s World Cup coverage include Volkswagen, Nike, Wells Fargo, Geico, Coca-Cola, Verizon, SoFi, Hotwire, Progressive and Google Nest. Verizon replaced Nationwide as the presenting sponsor of Fox’s pregame show “World Cup Live,” while USWNT sponsor Volkswagen holds down the same role during the postgame broadcast “World Cup Today.” Coca-Cola, which pulls double duty as an official partner of FIFA and a key backer of the USWNT, is the presenting sponsor of Fox’s halftime show.
In 2015, Fox’s then-ad sales chief Toby Byrne said the network had generated $40 million in Women’s World Cup sales, more than double its initial estimates. That figure was up significantly compared to the $6 million in inventory ESPN eked out during the 2011 tourney.
The England v. USA semifinal is set to kick off tomorrow (July 2) on Fox at 3 p.m. EDT. Holland and Sweden will square off at the same time on Wednesday afternoon.