BLOG | by Lance Fraenkel

With its national team failing to qualify, how many Americans are actually watching the FIFA World Cup?

Following the success of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA will be hoping for a tournament on a grand scale when the event is hosted by the USA, Mexico and Canada in 2026. But with its national team failing to qualify for Russia 2018, we thought we’d take a look at the appetite in America for a World Cup which doesn’t involve Team USA.

This time around, 19% of Americans told us they were going to watch some of the action at the Russia World Cup, albeit that almost half of those only plan to watch the very last of the 64 scheduled games – the final.  This compares to, say, 46% of Brits.

But engagement with the tournament has declined overall.  Twenty six percent of Americans say that their interest in the World Cup has waned since the 2014 edition in Brazil, indicating that followership of the property has been affected by the national team’s failure to qualify for the first time since the Mexico ‘86.

The good news, however, is that interest in the World Cup is not solely predicated on the national team’s participation in it – plenty of Americans will watch despite the absence of Earnie Stewart’s side (he takes over officially as manager in August).

That’s something backed up in other data we collected. Although a sizeable proportion of Americans are watching the World Cup, just 2% of people say that they will only watch the games of the country they are supporting. That means that the majority of viewers are quite prepared to watch teams they don’t support – something that bodes well for 2026, when organisers will be looking to fill up stadiums across 80 games. Although the US national team qualifies automatically as host of the tournament, they will play in a maximum of seven of games – so getting Americans to games where their team is not playing will be a critical success factor for the tournament.

For this World Cup, though, attending games isn’t an option for many fans (it’s a ten-hour flight from New York to the nearest tournament venue – Kaliningrad) so where are Americans watching the games?

Our chart below tells us that the most popular choice for fans is at home – whether with friends or alone. A bar or pub is also a popular option, with time differences making watching the game at work a good option for those with understanding bosses.

So what about 2026? Well, although our homes and bars will always be an option then, 21% of Americans tell us that they’d like to see a World Cup live, the same number as tell us they are passionate about the tournament. While we haven’t looked at the data for Canada and Mexico yet, those numbers stack up well for a successful United 2026. And at the very least, the US national team will get to play a couple of games this time around.

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Lance joined SMG Insight in 2017 as Vice President for North America. Having previously worked for YouGov, Lance has over ten years’ experience in the market research products industry, beginning as an analyst within the consumer division and advancing to the role of Head of Client Management for North America. Lance has successfully developed talent and led large cross-functional teams, consulting with a broad range of clients including Google, NBC, VISA, Bank of America, Omnicom Media Group and Twitter. Lance is a graduate of New York’s Cornell University.



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