Croatia celebrating a World Cup win against Russia. July 7, 2018; Sochi, Russia; Croatia player Domagoj Vida (right) celebrates after scoring a goal against Russia in the quarterfinals during the FIFA World Cup 2018 at Fihst Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cao Can/Xinhua/Sipa USA via USA TODAY Sports

The early ratings numbers for this World Cup weren’t great for Fox or Telemundo, especially with the absence of the U.S., leading to all sorts of dubious comparisons such as “versus the last four World Cups” (which goes back to the middle-of-the-night 2002 one in Japan and South Korea). However, there was some hope on the Fox side that things would improve as the knockout stage approached, and that certainly happened with Saturday’s England-Sweden and Croatia-Russia games, with the latter in particular (Croatian celebrations thereof seen above) serving as the most-watched quarterfinal match on U.S. TV since at least 1990 (even beating the U.S.-Germany quarterfinal match in 2002, although that one was at a much worse time).

Here’s more from Fox’s release:

Saturday’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Quarterfinal matches averaged 5,664,000 viewers on the FOX broadcast network, making it the most-watched day of Quarterfinal action since at least 1990, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The viewership numbers are up +15% from the second day of the 2014 Quarterfinals (4,931,000), up +14% from the second day of Quarterfinals in 2010 (4,982,000) and up +26% from the second day of Quarterfinals in 2006 (4,490,000).

The Croatia-Russia thriller, which ended with Croatia defeating the host nation on penalty kicks, set the tone for the viewership milestone, averaging 6,317,000 viewers on FOX, making it the most-watched World Cup Quarterfinal match in English or Spanish since at least 1990, including U.S. matches.

They also note that Croatia-Russia (which took place at 2 p.m. Eastern Saturday) was up 20 percent from the Netherlands-Costa Rica quarterfinal in 2014, 28 percent from Paraguay-Spain in 2010, and 66 percent from Brazil-France in 2006, and that it averaged another 316,000 viewers on streaming. The earlier England-Sweden match (which started at 10 a.m. Eastern) pulled in 4,763,000 viewers on TV, up six percent from Argentina-Belgium in 2014, and another 363,000 on streaming. That’s continuing the trend of strong streaming numbers we’ve seen throughout this tournament, both in the U.S. and worldwide, and as Deadline’s Dominic Patten writes, Fox pulled in even better streaming numbers for Friday’s quarterfinal games on FS1 (France-Uruguay and Brazil-Belgium):

Already a record breaker back home on TF1, France’s 2-0 win over Uruguay attracted 2.54 million viewers to Fox Sports 1 and 2.17 in metered market ratings. While neither was in the top 10 for this year’s World Cup in either categories, that match provided the launch pad for the 3.5 million sets of eyeballs and 2.92 in the early metrics ratings of Brazil’s 2-1 loss to Belgium. That 11:45 AM PT starting Battle of the Bs game proved to be the most watched weekday afternoon offering ever for FS1.

Add to that for the future leaning Murdoch clan that with an average minute audience of 559,000, Belgium’s securing of a semi-finals perch by beating Brazil is the most streamed authenticated event ever for Fox Sports. 

It makes sense that Brazil-Belgium would set the streaming record, given both Brazil’s prominence and that the match in question took place on a weekday (so there was probably a lot of streaming from offices). And those TV ratings aren’t bad either, especially considering that those matches were on the lesser-distributed FS1 instead of the Fox broadcast network. Telemundo also saw ratings success Friday for their Spanish-language coverage, recording a best-ever Friday daytime viewership of 1.8 million (which rises to 2.65 million if you count Total Audience Delivery, so they’re getting big streaming boosts too).

Overall, this tournament has still had ratings issues for Fox. Many of those were expected given the U.S. team’s absence, but the numbers have still seen sharp declines from 2014 (which both had the U.S. and was in a more favorable time zone) in particular; for example, the first three days of the Round of 16 averaged 2.3 million viewers, down 20 percent from ESPN/ABC coverage in 2014 (albeit up 16 percent versus ESPN/ABC coverage in 2010). And that’s led to a lot of the “last four World Cups” spin. But there have been some ratings wins here and there, and Saturday’s historic quarterfinal numbers are certainly one. We’ll see if the semifinals and final work out as well for Fox.

[Fox Sports Press Pass]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.