When the United States crashed out of the World Cup last fall, there were plenty of disappointed soccer fans across the country. But the most disappointed people may have been executives at Fox who had placed a big bet on soccer all the way back in 2011 when they spent $400 million on the rights for 2018 and 2022.

Strong ratings for the 2014 World Cup on ESPN/ABC made Fox’s bet look a bit better. But with the USMNT missing out on the 2018 edition, the chance to build on 2014 in any big way was gone. So to that end, that Fox is reportedly going to generate more ad revenue than ESPN/ABC did in 2014 is certainly a pretty good sign that the long-term viability of the deal is intact.

Via AdWeek’s Jason Lynch:

But as the 2018 World Cup semifinals begin today, the company says it has rebounded from that early stumble and that the tournament is on track to be an ad revenue success, even without a U.S. team for its viewers to root for.

Fox expects to top ESPN and ABC’s U.S. TV ad spend for the 2014 World Cup, which Kantar Media estimated at $187 million.

“With four games left [today and Wednesday’s semifinals, Saturday’s third-place match and Sunday’s final], we did as good a job as we could have ever hoped,” said Mike Petruzzi, svp of ad sales, Fox Sports.

There are just two ad slots left for Sunday’s final, with spots going for as much as $750,000, which Fox says is the highest unit cost for a soccer game in U.S. history.

In addition to the United States missing the tournament, 2018 had a few other ratings challenges, none more important than the broadcast window. Brazil offered a much friendlier time zone than Russia, and the lack of interest combined with the time zone has contributed to a big ratings slide relative to four years ago. That’s forced Fox to offer make-goods to advertisers.

Via Joe Flint and Suzane Vranica in the Wall Street Journal:

Still, viewership of the 2018 tournament on Fox’s broadcast network and its cable channel Fox Sports 1 averaged 2.6 million through the quarterfinals, down about 32% from the 2014 tournament, which aired on Disney’s ESPN and ABC.
“The fact that the U.S. team didn’t make it was a real setback for Fox,” said sports and media industry consultant Marc Ganis.
When the U.S. team failed to qualify, Fox cut its production budget significantly and adjusted its ratings estimates for advertisers, people familiar with the matter said. But it hasn’t been able to deliver the audiences it guaranteed in ad deals, forcing it to provide additional ad time—“make goods”—as compensation to some advertisers, ad executives said.
According to AdWeek, those make goods have come in the bumper programming to World Cup matches:
Fox Sports is using inventory in its ancillary World Cup programming, including pre- and postgames and late-night shows, for any makegoods from those earlier-round games.
Still, Fox’s long-term gambit is probably going to pay off, thanks to FIFA offering them the 2026 World Cup for very little, possibly in exchange for Fox not suing over the 2022 Qatar tournament being moved to the winter. That World Cup is going to be contested in North America and mostly in the United States, meaning it’s a very valuable property, and even after Fox pays FIFA a bit extra, it’s probably going to be a very big win for them.
They’re just going to have to wait a while to celebrate.

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.