A U.S. squad favored to win its third straight title, a surge in demand for women’s sports and a beefed-up broadcast slate have conspired to help Fox set a record pace for sales of its ad inventory in and around the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
According to Mike Petruzzi, senior VP, Fox Sports ad sales, with 37 days to go before the action kicks off Down Under, 90% of all available match-day units have been sold off, pacing the network well ahead of where it was at this time four years ago. Advertisers who’ve been dragging their feet on a buy for the July 26 USA-Netherlands group-stage broadcast may want to buzz Petruzzi before they get to the end of this paragraph, as only one commercial spot in the rematch of the 2019 final remains unaccounted for.
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“The rise in women’s sports has been nothing short of phenomenal,” Petruzzi said, adding that the quadrennial nature of the event and the USWNT’s literal most-favored-nation status have contributed to the run on ad spots. DraftKings has Team USA currently listed as +275 favorites, leading European contenders England (+350), Spain (+650), Germany (+650) and France (+750).
While the roster has yet to be announced (a spate of injuries have unsettled the selection process), shoe-ins for a trip to Australia/New Zealand include team captain Becky Sauerbrunn, starting left back Emily Fox and striker Alex Morgan. The 2019 Ballon d’Or winner Megan Rapinoe, who turns 38 on July 5, is expected to play a diminished role on this year’s USWNT.
Given its assigned grouping, the U.S. squad should all but saunter into the knockout stage; along with the Dutch (+1600), the squad’s first-round opponents include Portugal (+10000) and the longest of long shots, Vietnam (+50000). In other words, whatever the opposite of the Group of Death is, the U.S. is in it.
In addition to the USWNT’s quest for the three-peat, Fox is eyeballing a boost in revenue thanks to FIFA’s call to expand the tournament from 24 to 32 teams, which in turn will add 12 outings to the traditional 52-match schedule. Twenty-nine of those 64 games will air on the Fox broadcast network, which translates to the biggest slab of available over-the-air inventory for a Women’s World Cup on English-language TV. (The advantage of network TV cannot be overstated; per Nielsen’s most recent assessment of the cable universe, FS1—which will carry the remaining 35 matches—reaches 72.4 million households, whereas Fox’s broadcast signal is beamed to nearly 98 million homes.)
On the Spanish-language front, NBCUniversal’s Telemundo will counter with an even more aggressive strategy, airing 33 matches on its flagship broadcast network and 31 on the cable network Universo.
Among the top categories that have invested in Fox’s 2023 World Cup coverage are automotive, insurance, wireless and tech. Fans who are susceptible to the allure of advertising should expect to contend with the occasional attack of the munchies, as snacks have made an unprecedented run on the tourney, thanks in large part to a big dive by Frito-Lay.
Brands that will be particularly visible throughout the month-long event are Verizon, which returns as the sponsor of Fox’s World Cup Live pre-game show, and Volkswagen, presenter of the halftime show. Google will serve as the sponsor for the Fox bridge show.
Fox began engaging with advertisers a year ago, although Petruzzi’s team was sidelined for a bit by the unprecedented scheduling of the 2022 Men’s World Cup, which concluded on Dec. 18. “Sales really started taking off after Qatar, and we saw a flurry of activity all the way through April,” Petruzzi said. While this year’s event will take place a few weeks later than usual, studio investment was the only area in which Fox saw a tangible impact on sales. Even so, Fox and Telemundo seem to have missed out on just one summer blockbuster in the July 12 Paramount release of Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One. Other popcorn flicks set to bow during the World Cup run are Barbie and Oppenheimer.
Given the bulked-up schedule, Fox should best its haul for the 2019 World Cup, which Kantar Media estimates generated some $85.1 million in ad sales revenue. (Telemundo raked in another $10.9 million on commercial time, bringing the total take to $96 million.) That said, the time difference between Oz and the continental U.S. is not inconsiderable, as the August 20 final is set to kick off at 6 a.m. EDT/3 a.m. PDT.
The half-day difference is likely to be taxing, but not insurmountable. Proximity is certainly hard to overstate; per Nielsen, when Canada hosted the 2015 Women’s World Cup, 26.9 million viewers tuned in to Fox and Telemundo for the final, which the U.S. won in a 5-2 romp over Japan. That stands as the second most-watched soccer match in U.S. history, trailing only the Argentina-Germany Men’s World Cup final in 2014 (27.3 million). By comparison, the USWNT’s 2-0 victory over the Dutch, which took place in France four years ago, averaged 15.9 million viewers.
Fox caught a lucky break with this year’s schedule, as the Americans will kick off two of their three group stage matches (July 21 vs. Vietnam and July 26 vs. the Netherlands) at 9 p.m. EDT. The Aug. 1 meeting with Portugal closes out the first phase of the tourney beginning at 3 a.m. EDT, although as the U.S. may have already punched its ticket to the knockout stage before it’s set to take the pitch in Auckland, you may not need to set your alarm for this one.
As the hype continues to build stateside, the rest of the world is also demonstrably fired up for the summer soccer showcase. As FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced late last week, ticket sales for the ninth installment of the Women’s World Cup have passed the 1 million mark, putting Australia/New Zealand on track to succeed the 2019 tourney as the most-attended women’s sporting event in history.
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