World Cup ratings are high–astronomically so. National Public Radio reports that ESPN and Univision, which acquired the rights to broadcast the tournament in English and Spanish, respectively (with Univision paying three times the price!), are celebrating some of the highest ratings they have ever recorded–for anything.
But as NPR’s Renee Montagne and the Sport Business Journal‘s John Ourand admit, that’s not likely to boost ratings for soccer overall in the U.S. They’re too polite to note that even for those who love to play the game, it can be rather boring as a spectator sport–especially when compared to the thrills of, say, NFL football.
There are several extraneous reasons ratings are up. One of those mentioned is the development of new mobil technology–which barely existed four years ago–that allows viewers to download network apps to their mobile phones or tablet computers and watch or listen the games streaming live while they are at work or on the move.
There are other, low-tech reasons that NPR left out. One is that the World Cup began conveniently as basketball and hockey drew to a close for the season. The other major American sport, baseball, is having a particularly tough year because pitchers are dominating hitters, meaning games are far less exciting for the casual fan.
Another simple reason for the World Cup’s success is that it is in a “decent” time zone. Since the U.S. hosted the tournament in 1994, the World Cup has been held in time zones that make it extremely difficult for Americans to watch. As such, there has never been a real opportunity for Americans to express their interest as spectators.
NBC bet big–to the tune of $250 million–on the English Premier League, and probably hopes that it can turn the high World Cup ratings into greater spectator interest. Yet the low-tech reasons above will make that very hard, as will the fact it is tough for Americans (or anyone) to care about obscure matches in foreign leagues.