The 2018 World Cup kicks off on Thursday morning from the soccer hotbed of (glances) Moscow with a match between world powers (glances again) Russia and Saudi Arabia.
There is a lot of cynicism heading into this World Cup, from the legitimate concerns about security and safety in Russia, to disappointment over early start times for American viewers, to bitterness about the USMNT’s failure to qualify. On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you for this World Cup? Are you cool on this year’s tournament because of any of those reasons (or another reason unmentioned), or are you amped because, well, it’s the World Cup?
Andrew Bucholtz: I’m at an 8 for this; I love the World Cup, I watch each edition, and there are plenty of great players, teams and on-field storylines this time around. And I think we’ll see some excellent soccer. But two things drag it down for me. First, there are the problems with Russia hosting this, in everything from drug testing subversion (which had soccer connections, discussed well in a recent Outside The Lines piece) to human rights violations to FIFA’s ongoing issues with corruption. Second, I’m not sure how well the Fox broadcast is going to go. They did a decent job with the Women’s World Cup in 2015 and have some talented announcers, but it’s disappointing that they’re only sending two of six teams to Russia (unlike, say, Telemundo). Even non-rightsholder ESPN is sending more on-camera people to Russia than Fox.
It sends a message that Fox really doesn’t care as much without the U.S. involved, regardless of their excuses, and I think their broadcasts will suffer as a result. And I think Fox’s studio coverage and coverage of this on their other shows will compare poorly to ESPN’s in 2010 and 2014. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong, but I think we’re going to see a worse World Cup from a U.S. English-language broadcast perspective this time around.
Phillip Bupp: I give myself an 8 out of 10. I mean, I cover the sport so I was going to watch no matter what. I would take a point off for the US not qualifying and a point off for all the issues both in terms of safety/hooliganism/racism/homophobia/etc. and political issues going on with Russia along with how they got the World Cup. The seriousness of what is going on in Russia shouldn’t be ignored but at the same time, the World Cup is an opportunity to shine a worldwide spotlight on those issues facing Russia even if Vladimir Putin really wants to hide that from the world.
And in terms of the US, I would much rather have the US in the World Cup than not but at least I can go in as a true neutral fan and with no rooting interest. I just want endless excitement and a safe tournament for all.
Matt Clapp: I’m a very casual soccer fan, but I typically watch a ton of the World Cup. But without the US involved, it’s hard for me to get nearly as interested.
Additionally, these start times aren’t favorable for those of us on pacific time, and especially those of us usually working late-night. So I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to watch a lot of these games. I’m about a 4 out of 10 on the interest level department, and normally it would be much higher.
Ken Fang: As someone who loves big global sporting events, the World Cup is right up my alley. I’m at an 8, but I seem to be the exception. But going into this year, there seems to be little to no buzz. While Fox is doing its best to pump up the volume on the World Cup by promoting it on FS1, FS2, FX, FXX, NatGeo, NatGeoWild, and Big Fox, there doesn’t appear to be the interest that we saw in 2014.
A lot of that has to do with the U.S. not qualifying, but if there is a big underdog story like an Iceland or an Australia catching fire and going further than expected, Fox is going to struggle to gain an audience.
Telemundo, which will be airing the games in Spanish, will not have a problem drawing an audience, and it’s going to do rather well for them.
But overall, the ratings will be much lower than 2014. Even had the U.S. made it, the ratings would have been lower from four years ago, when the World Cup was in a time zone-friendly Brazil. With games in the morning in Russia when a lot of people are at work or still sleeping, numbers will be greatly reduced.
I’ll be watching when I’m able to and I hope to see a great tournament in the process.
Ben Koo: So I would give myself a D+ in terms of being a soccer fan. I basically tune out all of the club stuff, but will keep an eye on major tournaments like the World Cup, Euro, etc. I played through high school, so while I do like the sport, it’s just not high on my list. Anyways…
Every four years, I typically strap in for the World Cup and the beginning of the process is looking at the US’s draw and figuring out what I’ll do for those games. I’m pretty all in on the US when it comes to the World Cup and Olympic hockey, so 2018 is double heartbreaking for not only losing NHL player eligibility but also the US not qualifying. That’s a long ways of saying, yeah I’ll definitely watch some, but without the US serving as the only thing I’ll schedule around, and getting engaged and excited about, my viewing will mostly be just whenever I can find time.
With none of the games kicking off later than 2pm, most of my viewing is going to be in the background while I work. With no team I’m openly rooting for and kickoff times at not ideal times, I’d say I’m more excited for my next Amazon package than I am the World Cup.
Joe Lucia: I’m like a 6 out of 10. I moved to California last year, so a huge chunk of the matches will be taking place before I wake up. Without the USMNT involved, I don’t have much of a rooting interest aside from specific players, and I can’t exactly get myself too invested in the team success of Belgium/England/Spain/etc.
I’m also a bit disappointed that Fox isn’t going all-out with their coverage in their first World Cup thanks to the USMNT’s failure to qualify. We’re still going to do one of our traditional good/bad/ugly reviews of the coverage once the event is over, but I feel like Fox is almost already behind the eight-ball here and will get pilloried for not sending all of their commentators, no matter how good or bad the coverage is.
With all of that being said, this is still the world’s premiere soccer competition (and hell, perhaps the premiere sporting competition), and there are plenty of storylines to keep us entertained during the World Cup. I’m just hoping the games on the pitch deliver and aren’t overly defensive, because that would be the last thing anyone needs – a series of cautious, goal-deprived draws.
Alex Putterman: As the stereotypical American sports fan who pays attention to soccer for only one month every four years, I am decently excited about the World Cup, about a 6.5 out of 10. Although the U.S. team tends to be my entry point to the rest of the tournament, I always wind up watching tons of games between countries in which I have no investment, and this year should be the same in that regard. I fully plan to randomly tune in for a Senegal-Poland game, decide Senegal seems cool, and then start rooting for them for no real reason. I also have no problem with the early start times, given that I work from home and can throw a game on in the background. So overall, while I can certainly see why someone might be unenthused about this World Cup, I’m pretty much as excited as ever.
Jay Rigdon: 5. I’m normally Mr. World Cup, taking in every preview podcast and article possible. But the USMNT’s absence, and the painful way it happened, are still lingering. Combine that with the ongoing incompetence of US Soccer, and the general loss of prestige with the production leaving ESPN (where the World Cup absolutely felt like a massive event, and was treated as such) for FOX, and you have a recipe for indifference.
I’ll watch it when I can, but I won’t be heading to the bar for lunch to watch neutral games like I did four years ago.
Matt Yoder: I’m a soccer nut so I am always going to be psyched to watch the World Cup. This year’s tournament has me particularly excited because it seems to be so wide open. You can make a legitimate argument for a handful of teams to lift the trophy. Everyone knows Germany is going to make the semifinals at least and is returning pretty much the entire team that won four years ago. Brazil seems renewed and eager to make up for their embarrassing loss on home soil with a healthy Neymar. France could win the whole thing with the likes of Pogba, Mbappe, Griezmann, Kante and more… or they could go out in the group stage. Belgium is a dark horse and may even have the most talented and gifted team in the whole tournament. And what about Argentina and Portugal led by Messi and Ronaldo respectively? Finally, it’ll be fascinating to see just how England choose to disappoint their fans once again.
But I feel like I may be an outlier for this event. Having the USA miss out is going to affect the interest in this tournament in ways that we probably can’t fully grasp right now. Then there’s the fact that the broadcast rights moving from ESPN to Fox might damper some enthusiasm as well. Moreover, the start times moving back to the morning and daytime hours are going to lessen the audience versus four years ago when we were roughly in the same timeframe as the games in Brazil. Hopefully the tournament is able to draw in viewers with some compelling stories throughout and we can move forward from the Russia-Saudi Arabia barnburner that will kick things off.