Guest Blog: Copa America Ratings Grow With Soccer’s Popularity in U.S.

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The Copa America tournament typically happens every four years and features the national soccer teams from CONMEBOL (South America) as well as participants from CONCACAF (North America, Central America, and the Caribbean) competing to see who is the best in the region. The best-finishing CONMEBOL team is then invited to participate in the FIFA Confederations Cup, the next of which is slated for 2017. Although the most recent Copa America was last year (with Chile emerging as the victor), the participating confederations had previously announced that a special edition of the tournament would take place this year to celebrate CONMEBOL turning 100 years old (though it does not impact the FIFA Confederations Cup, as Chile has already earned that slot). 

Undoubtedly seeking to seize on soccer’s growing popularity among U.S. sports fans (driven in part by the growing and influential Hispanic population), it was decided that the commemorative competition would take place on American soil for the first time. However, it almost didn’t happen—the 2015 FIFA corruption investigation revealed illegal practices surrounding the rights for the tournament, and rights-holder Datista’s assets were frozen. After CONCACAF eliminated Datista from the equation, the centennial event was allowed to proceed. 

Play began on last Friday, with Fox Sports carrying the games in English on Fox, FS1, and FS2, and Univision returning to the fold to air the matches in Spanish (beIN sports had the exclusive rights for the 2015 tournament). Not surprisingly, FOX drew substantially larger audiences for its coverage than beIN had the year before, as the latter still only reaches about 20 percent of the country. Even Fox Sports 2 has more than double beIN’s coverage. 

It is the Univision networks, however, that have led the pack in terms of viewing so far. While the average ratings are not substantially higher compared to 2011 (and are even down among some demos), the company has aired more matches this time around, and Univision Deportes has only about 40 percent U.S. coverage. Still, its ratings have been on par with the much more fully distributed Fox Sports 1. 

The opening match between the U.S. and Colombia on Friday night was simulcast on Univision, UniMás, and Univision Deportes, posting an aggregate 2.3 rating among men 18-49 and 21-34. But it was Sunday’s primetime match up between Mexico and Uruguay that generated the strongest viewing to date, earning a 2.4 among men 18-49 on Univision alone. 

While our research has shown that TV viewing habits among Hispanics can vary greatly depending on generation and years-in-country, it’s clear that even bilingual Hispanics favor the Spanish-language experience when it comes to watching soccer, and Univison’s networks will continue to be their first stop for the remainder of the tournament. 

Brian Hughes is senior VP, audience analysis practice lead, at Magna Global.