Sunday’s jaw-dropping match between France and Argentina may have been the greatest World Cup final ever staged, but even with the added benefit of out-of-home deliveries, the stateside broadcasts may not set a new soccer ratings record.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Argentina’s win over the defending champs averaged 22.3 million viewers and a 9.2 household rating, making it the fifth most-watched soccer match in U.S. TV history. The capstone of Lionel Messi’s international career came within shouting distance of the all-time top draws, a roster that includes the U.S. women’s 2015 victory over Japan (26.7 million viewers), the 2014 Germany-Argentina men’s Final (26.5 million), the U.S.-Portugal group stage match in 2014 (24.7 million) and the 2010 Spain-Netherlands men’s final (24.3 million).
Note that the figures from previous years are “whistle-to-whistle” deliveries, while the data from Sunday’s match includes the dilutive pregame coverage. When the final match-only numbers drop tomorrow, it’s likely that Fox and Telemundo will elbow aside at least a few of those earlier broadcasts.
The combined, all-in figure includes 16.8 million fans who tuned in to Fox and another 5.53 million who watched the Spanish-language feed on Telemundo. With just 12 days to go in the calendar year, the Messi-Mbappe dogfight now stands as the 34th most-watched program of 2022, coming in a hair under ESPN’s coverage of the CFP Championship Game (Georgia-Alabama, 22.6 million viewers) and NBC’s presentation of Night 10 of the Winter Olympics (22.5 million). The latter broadcast led out of Super Bowl LVI.
Prior to Sunday’s nail-biter, the most-watched match of this year’s World Cup was the Black Friday U.S.-England group stage draw, which averaged 18.7 million viewers across the two networks.
While the inclusion of out-of-home data makes for an apples-to-Fiona Apples comparison to previous years—when the vanilla TV ratings weren’t bolstered by millions of bonus impressions served up in bars, restaurants and other alternative venues—the new methodology goes a long way towards documenting an audience that for decades remained overlooked and undercounted. (Toss in the unofficial OOH estimates for the 2015 women’s final and the total draw pulls up shy of the 40 million mark.)
Based on the ratio of the overall TV deliveries to the final household ratings, OOH impressions appear to have contributed between 25% and 30% of the final’s total audience.
Nearly half of the viewers who tuned in for Sunday’s final were members of the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo. Per Nielsen, some 10.2 million adults under 50 watched the match, accounting for 45% of the overall Fox/Telemundo deliveries. That made for an enviously youthful TV turnout; by comparison, only 15% of the audience for the broadcast primetime entertainment shows is in the dollar demo.
Through the semifinals, Fox’s deliveries for the 2022 World Cup were up 25% versus the analogous count in 2018, but were off 12% compared to where ABC/ESPN stood at the same juncture in the record-setting 2014 tourney.
Given that overall TV usage has plummeted by nearly 40% in the eight years since Brazil hosted the World Cup, the deliveries for this year’s temporally dislodged event are tremendously encouraging. And while linear TV’s existential crisis will only get hairier between now and the 2026 World Cup, the impact of holding the next global soccer showcase in North America should go a long way toward boosting Fox and Telemundo’s ratings.