Group play is nearly over at the 2014 World Cup, and American interest in the quadrennial event has soared on social media and can be seen in television ratings. The case could be made that World Cup interest in the United States is at an all-time high.
Many factors have helped this World Cup thrive – scoring is up, many of the games have been thrilling, traditional powers are being eliminated and the US followed pre-Cup drama (Landon Donovan’s omission) with early success (heart-stopping win over Ghana; incredible finish against Portugal).
But perhaps the biggest factor in the 2014 World Cup success in America: The time. There’s only a 1-hour time difference between the Brazil venues and East Coast of the United States (aka, home of five of the Top 10 TV markets). Not having to go up against a prime time TV lineup at full strength (all the shows are in reruns) and the NBA Finals (which ended early) helped, too.
Which leads us to something that the John Feinsteins and Dan Shaughnessys of the world will love to hear: The 2018 World Cup, in Russia, may not captivate the United States the way it has this month because there’s an 8-hour time difference.
Group play games in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup begin at 1 pm, 4 pm and 7 pm. With the time difference, they run live at 12 pm, 3 pm and 6 pm on the East Coast. The Round of 16 games will be at 1 pm and 5 pm Brazil time (aired at 12 and 4 on the East Coast starting this weekend).
If games start in Russia at the 2018 World Cup at 1 pm, 4 pm and 7 pm … they’ll be aired live on Fox Sports 1 at 5 am, 8 am and 11 am. (Sorry, fans on the West Coast.) That’s not nearly as bad as the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan (11 hour time difference), but it’s not optimal to draw, say, 11 million viewers or 22 million viewers on one network.
But it’s very early. Perhaps the stadiums will have lights and the games will be at 3, 6 and 9 pm local time, which would be more favorable to US viewers (7 am, 10 am, 1 pm).
[Aside: Yes, obviously the European TV networks matter most to the World Cup; there are many more soccer fans there than here. But this discussion is about interest in America and US television numbers.]
There’s always the option of tape-delay for FS1 (not ideal, obviously, but given how many people I know that DVR games and stay off the internet all day, it certainly can be done). Or maybe Fox Sports works with FIFA and the best teams and best players are not playing while people are still asleep in America. Would I wake up at 5 am to watch Messi or Neymar or James Rodriguez? You’re damn right I would. Would millions of casual fans or kids on summer break from high school or college? I’ll guess no.
Of course, there’s also the chance that this US team Jurgen Klinsmann is building makes a run to the 2014 quarterfinals, shocks Argentina, and reaches the semifinals against France. In this dare-to-dream scenario, the US could actually be primed for a run to win the 2018 World Cup, and of course all 313 million people in America would wake up at any hour to watch that.