World Cup opening game drew 3.2M viewers on Fox Sports, 4M on NBC's Peacock and Telemundo

The 2022 World Cup kicked off over the weekend, the first match garnering approximately 3.2 million U.S. viewers across Fox Sports’ linear and streaming platforms.

Viewership for the opening game, in which Ecuador secured a 2-0 victory against host country Qatar, was up 88% from viewership in the first match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, according to Fox Sports.

Sunday’s inaugural match broke a record in Spanish-language programming, amassing 4 million viewers across NBC’s Telemundo, Peacock and Telemundo Deportes’ digital platforms. That figure compares to 1.54 million viewers for Telemundo’s coverage of the 2018 opening match.

This year’s game delivered an average-minute audience of 832,000 viewers, which NBC said represents 21% of the average audience and a high figure for sports streaming.

Outside the U.S., England’s opening match against Iran on Monday generated 8 million U.K. viewers on BBC. People trying to stream the game on BBC’s iPlayer VOD service experienced crashing due to the influx of viewers, Forbes reported.

FIFA expressed high hopes for this year’s World Cup turnout. League president Gianni Infantino in May predicted a total of 5 billion viewers would tune into the games globally, which would make the 2022 World Cup the most-watched event in the tournament’s history.

Comparably, nearly 4 billion people watched the 2018 World Cup, Infantini said, touting soccer’s “unique reach.”

FIFA earlier this year dove into the streaming space with the launch of FIFA+, a free ad-supported service. While FIFA’s app isn’t live-streaming the ongoing World Cup, it does offer archived content of past World Cup and Women’s World Cup events.

The 2022 World Cup is gaining more attention in the U.S., a market historically less interested in soccer than say Europe or Latin America, according to research from Altman Solon. While 37% of Americans said they don’t plan to watch any of the games this year, 26% said they’re willing to pay for World Cup coverage – more than almost every European country the firm surveyed.

“While the FIFA World Cup may never replace major U.S. sporting events like the Super Bowl or World Series in terms of U.S. domestic audience size, soccer leagues should invest in growing interest in soccer and soccer tournaments,” Altman Solon wrote in its report. “Likewise, the high price points that U.S. sports fans are willing to pay for FIFA World Cup content suggest an attractive audience that can be very lucrative for advertisers and corporate sponsors."

Where to watch the 2022 World Cup

Cable subscribers can tune into the games on the Fox Sports 1 pay TV channel or via the Fox Sports app. As mentioned previously, Telemundo and Peacock are providing exclusive Spanish-language coverage in the U.S. The first 12 World Cup matches will be available to Peacock subscribers on the free tier, while the remaining games will be on Peacock Premium.

The Fox Sports and Telemundo channels are also on FuboTV, which will stream all 64 games and select matches in 4K HD. Replays of every match will be hosted on Tubi, Fox’s free ad-supported streaming service.

Additionally, viewers can stream the games through virtual MVPDs like Sling TV, Vidgo, DirecTV Stream, Hulu Live TV and YouTube TV.

Despite the World Cup being such an anticipated event, SSIMWAVE said streaming quality varies for the games. The company recently analyzed World Cup footage from three streaming providers – one of which includes YouTube TV – and found all three services scored below the company’s recommended level for sports streaming quality.

SSIMWAVE suggested the reason for lagging video quality could be due to the high cost of network delivery in and from Qatar.