11 JAN 2023

How popular was the 2022 World Cup among sports fans in the United States?

This year’s World Cup matches, especially those involving the United States team, attracted massive TV audiences in the country, according to Nielsen’s latest report.

11 JAN 2023

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The arrival of this year’s World Cup validated the immense draw of live sports on traditional TV. While the appeal of live sports is widely known, this year’s US viewership illustrates that the allure is strong enough to entice many Americans to put their lives on hold to watch the action, Nielsen assured in its latest report.

Compared with most live sports in the United States, which air outside of traditional work and school hours, the majority of the World Cup games were held at times when many Americans would be otherwise indisposed. That fact notwithstanding, this year’s World Cup matches, especially those involving the United States team, attracted massive TV audiences in the country. In fact, three of the matches the US team competed in this year are in the top 10 most-watched English broadcast World Cup matches in the United States dating back to 1994. And this year’s United States-England match boasted a local audience of almost 15.5 million to the English telecast – the highest US viewership of any men’s World Cup game to date.

The viewership of this year’s tournament is perhaps more notable when Nielsen Fan Insights indicates that just 28% of respondents in the United States are actually interested in soccer. Overall, Americans remain most interested in the NFL, the Olympics, the NBA, and MLB.

The appeal and interest in this year’s tournament has also withstood some intense competition. From an audience perspective, fall is when linear TV programming gets a boost, and this year was no exception, as sports viewing increased 222% in September as the new American football season kicked off. In October, sports viewing volume increased another 19%, just ahead of the start of the year’s World Cup, which is typically held in the summer.

By the time the tournament started, the matches that were broadcast on traditional cable began challenging other sports events for slots in Nielsen’s weekly top 10 listings. And over Thanksgiving weekend, possibly the biggest sports viewing period of the fall, survey respondents claimed the World Cup was their third choice for sports viewing, coming in behind NFL and college football.

Given the 90-minute matches, tuning in – especially midday – is a commitment. Most Americans acknowledge the need to balance their interest in the games with other aspects of their daily lives. While the majority of fans are keeping track of the action by watching highlights on TV, many are following on social media and hearing from others via word of mouth, including texting. With 47% texting and 43% scrolling on social media, big moments in individual matches have attracted audiences who might not have already been tuned in.


During this year’s World Cup, nearly two-thirds of those who watched or intended to watch live World Cup matches in Nielsen’s “World Cup Viewing Habits Survey” said they recalled the ads they saw during the matches they watched. Not surprisingly, food, snack and alcoholic beverage brands benefited the most, gaining the best recall among audiences.

According to Nielsen, the World Cup, like the Olympics, presents a unique opportunity for brands and agencies to attract audiences who might not otherwise be inspired to watch. With an average 4.7 million people watching the 2022 men’s World Cup live on cable and broadcast – higher than the average primetime programming of last year – advertisers would be wise to consider global tentpole sporting events in their marketing mix.