Soccer continues to pay big dividends for Fox in the ratings, as they pulled in an average of 1,035,000 viewers for Friday’s Gold Cup match between the U.S. and Haiti on Fox Sports 1. That’s a boost over the 986,000 they drew for the tournament opener against Honduras last Tuesday, which itself was the most-watched men’s soccer game in the history of Fox Sports 1 and the most-watched Gold Cup group stage game (with the previous one coming in 2013 on the Fox broadcast network itself), and it also came with an impressive 0.4 rating in the 18-49 demographic (tied for the day’s best with ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption); it did well despite a somewhat late slot (8:19 p.m. to 10:32 p.m. Eastern), too.
However, FS1’s soccer result was only Friday’s third-biggest cable sports rating in terms of total audience. While it’s not all that shocking to see ESPN slightly ahead on that front (they drew an average of 1,057,000 viewers to the main network for Wimbledon coverage between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., albeit with only a 0.2 demo rating), the day’s winner in total audience comes from a surprising source: the NASCAR Xfinity Series race from Kentucky on NBCSN, which averaged 1,094,000 viewers in mostly the same timeslot as the soccer, from 7:33 p.m. to 10:04 p.m. Eastern (although only with a 0.2 demo rating as well). Thus, while these soccer numbers are certainly good news for Fox (especially on the demo front), and a big trend from how soccer (and Gold Cup soccer in particular) has performed historically, they’re a long way from the remarkable numbers posted during the Women’s World Cup (it’s notable that that tournament averaged 1.824 million viewers across all matches, and way more for the U.S. games) and they’re more solid than spectacular in the overall sports context.
NBCSN’s NASCAR success deserves discussion too. It’s the first year in the new broadcast contract where NASCAR races are split between NBC and Fox rather than Fox, ESPN and Turner, and there were questions about how well NBC would do with it. However, the network did some flashy promotional spots with Nick Offerman, teamed up with Fox for other promotions, hired well-known NASCAR names like Dale Jarrett, and has turned in solid broadcasts so far despite challenges from the weather. Winning the day with an Xfinity (formerly Nationwide) Series event over both ESPN and Fox is certainly impressive for them, and it’s part of the larger success they’re having with motorsports. Both NBC and Fox doing well in the ratings here is notable, too; it’s further proof that both are closing the gap on ESPN, especially when it comes to compelling live events. ESPN’s studio programming, especially the programming that airs on the main channel, is often still pretty dominant, as the rest of those ratings show (the rest of the top 10 for Friday includes four ESPN studio shows and two editions of SportsCenter, plus NBC’s post-race coverage), but Fox and NBC are succeeding on the live events front more and more. Soccer and NASCAR look to be big parts of that growth.