2014 World Cup Most Likely to Reach Largest Audience in History

The World Cup is the largest and most significant event for FIFA, causing whole nations to put their lives on hold to watch the games.  The popularity of the World Cup is massive, even in non-football-centric nations.  Despite the rising costs of holding the tournament, FIFA’s efforts in Brazil are still projected to bring in record revenue.   FIFA has a great financial and commercial stake in the success of one of the largest sporting events in the world. FIFA recently revealed that 87% of the organization’s revenue between 2007 and 2010 was from the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.  In a recent financial report, FIFA stated that $2,408 million of its $2,448 million from the event was earned through television rights.

2014 appears to be no exception as media companies are projected to pay for $4 billion of FIFA’s income for rights to broadcast the tournament.  According to USA Today, European television networks alone will pay nearly $1.7 billion in fees to FIFA for broadcasting rights.

While these numbers are impressive on their own, it is important to put into perspective the broadcasting success of past World Cups.  Analysis of previous World Cup events help project the commercial success of the 2014 World Cup as well as expose possible factors that may limit broadcasting success.

The 2006 World Cup, hosted in Germany, saw a 154% increase in the number of channels that broadcasted the World Cup, as well as a 76% increase in the number of hours of programming dedicated to the World Cup compared to the 2002 tournament in South Korea.  This dramatic increase just between 2 tournaments demonstrates the rapidly rising interest around the world.  Even Europe saw a 76.3% increase in the number of broadcast hours of the event compared to the 2002 World Cup.

What might be most surprising is that Asia contributed to 34.2% of the number of in-home viewers of the 2006 World Cup.  China accounted for the largest number of viewers in the world (followed by Brazil, Vietnam, and Germany), despite the Chinese national team failing to qualify for the tournament.  Viewership in the United States also jumped 38.9% from 2002 to 2006.  The number of broadcast hours increased an astounding 221% from 2002 to 2006.

The numbers in these regions in particular continued to surge in 2010, when the record for the most watched soccer game in U.S. history was broken twice in the 2010 tournament, first by the US-Ghana Round of 16 match and then by the 2010 World Cup Final between Spain and Netherlands. In 2010, 3.2 billion people saw at least 1 minute of coverage of the tournament, an 8% increase from the 2006 tournament.  2 billion people saw at least thirty minutes of coverage, a 3% increase from 2010.  Once again the highest audience was in China, followed by Brazil and Japan.

It is important to highlight these regions of the world because of the large time difference between them and the host nation.  When most group stage matches were played at 3 pm, 6 pm, and 9 pm, locally in Germany in 2006, matches were broadcast during the workday at 9 am ET, 12 pm ET, and 2 pm EST.  In China, the matches were broadcast at 10 pm, 1 am, and 4 am.  Both the US and China saw similar broadcasting schedules because host nation South Africa is only 1 hour ahead of the 2006 host Germany. China and Brazil still remain the top nations to watch the World Cup and the US has seen unprecedented growth in viewership in the past eight years.

Given the historical growth, it should come as no surprise that the 2014 is projected to become the most watched World Cup ever.  Most group matches for the 2014 World Cup will be broadcast in the United States at 12 pm EST, 3 pm EST, and 6 pm EST, a much more desirable time for most Americans to view the World Cup on television.

However, television may not even be the preferred viewing platform in 2014.  ESPN has expanded their coverage and will broadcast all matches on WatchESPN which can be streamed online, as well as on mobile devices and tablets.  ESPN has also offered to broadcast the games in Portuguese and Korean.  This level of coverage coupled with their brand new ESPN FC mobile and desktop app, will allow viewers to access 24 hour coverage and news about the tournament at their fingertips.

In ESPN’s latest television commercial for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the ad makes a claim that during the World Cup, everyone is on one time zone.  This has never been truer in the age of digital media which breaks time zone barriers that may have limited viewers from watching the World Cup in 2006 or 2010.  As long as technology continues to provide new ways to link viewers to the World Cup, both broadcasting companies and FIFA will continue to see record numbers and record revenues.


What do you think about the broadcast outlook for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil? Let us know in the comments section below, or via Facebook or Twitter.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.