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FIFA World Cup 2022 nets ad gains, eyes audience growth – S&P podcast

The 2022 FIFA World Cup from Qatar kicks off Nov. 20, and the monthlong tournament is already generating high interest among advertisers and soccer fans.

Ray Warren, president of NBCUniversal Media LLC unit Telemundo Deportes, said the U.S. Spanish-language rights holder has netted record ad sales for the event and expects strong viewership. For the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Telemundo Deportes drew 36.6 million viewers.

"We're pretty optimistic," Warren said, speaking in the latest episode of "MediaTalk," a podcast from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Warren downplayed any impact from the time zone differential between Qatar and the U.S. — eight hours for the East Coast, and 11 for the West Coast.

The executive is also not concerned about competing for viewers with other sports. While the World Cup traditionally unfolds during the summer, the tournament was pushed back this year due to the severity of Qatari summers. Taking place between Nov. 20 and Dec. 18, the World Cup will be going up against a busy sports calendar that features NFL, NBA, NHL and college football and basketball action.

"There will be more people watching television, more households using television. There will be less people taking long vacations at the beach," Warren said, adding that for Hispanic viewers in the U.S., the World Cup is a co-viewing experience with family. "It's a celebratory period of the year, and it will be a celebratory time as the World Cup always is."

While the difference in time zones may be more challenging in the U.S. and Latin America, kickoff times in Europe are far more favorable, said Richard Berndes, an analyst at Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Group stage matches begin at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the U.K., while knockout contests are scheduled to start at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Those times will vary by an hour or so depending on where fans watch in Europe.

All told, FIFA is projecting that some 5 billion people will watch some part of the 2022 tournament, up from 4 billion in 2018. Having more than half the world's population watching the event is going to be some achievement, said Berndes.

The expected large audiences, coupled with the tournament playing out during the holiday shopping season, could prove valuable for marketers supporting World Cup coverage.

"This is the sweet spot," Warren said, noting that NBCU has sold more inventory at higher prices for Telemundo Deportes' coverage from Qatar than it did for the 2018 tourney. Some inventory has been held back to potentially capitalize on a brand coming in with a Christmas budget, he said.

Berndes said this year's tournament places the matches in the most "lucrative TV advertising period that outperforms all others." He expects a lot of campaigns will have a World Cup or soccer theme. He also said ad messages are likely to run outside the live games and on channels that do not air the contests.

As to future tournaments, Telemundo Deportes holds the rights to the Women's World Cup in July-August 2023 in Australia/New Zealand, and the 2026 men's tournament jointly hosted by Canada, Mexico and the U.S. Beyond that, Warren said the sports unit is interested in scoring deals for the women's and men's tournaments further out.

FIFA is not currently in the market, and negotiations will not happen before year-end. Warren said rights could come up for bid late next year or in 2024.

Berndes said interest in women's soccer is growing throughout Europe, as domestic leagues and the women's Champions League tournament build their audiences.

From a business point of view, Berndes believes there are still real opportunities for broadcasters and streamers to buy women's soccer rights that are relatively inexpensive compared to the rates for men's competitions.

"There's a great deal of interest and growth in interest, and you can only see it get higher and higher as it goes into next year," Berndes said.