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Argentina Earns Third Star as World Watches

World Cup Knockout-Stage Matches Attract 80M Domestic Viewers

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Social Media
World Cup
January 12, 2023
January 12, 2023
 min read

Following a fortnight of World Cup group-stage play that produced expected group winners such as Brazil and the Netherlands while also yielding the shocking exits of nations including Belgium and Germany, the final 16 was set in Qatar. The field of group winners and runners-up comprised five former champions as well as a pair of African sides, a couple of Asian nations, five UEFA representatives vying for their first world title, the Socceroos from Down Under, and a U.S. club that navigated Group B play without a loss. We used MVP’s omnichannel platform to examine domestic viewership totals on FOX and FS1 from each of the 16 knockout stage matches – including the third-place game – while also exploring the social impact created by the respective FAs and some of the individual faces of world soccer. Remarkably, we found interest increased to a new level relative to the 2022 World Cup’s opening 48 contests, as a total of 80 million viewers tuned in for the knockout-stage matches.

U.S.-Netherlands Draws Largest Audience

During the knockout stages, teams must perform their best every time their boots touch the pitch or risk ruing the results for an entire four-year cycle. Simultaneously, the intensity and threat of tournament dreams abruptly ending compel fans to watch whenever their compatriots compete. Unfortunately for American fans, they only got one opportunity to watch the Stars and Stripes in the knockout round, as the side fell to the Netherlands 3-1 in the Round of 16’s opening match. Nevertheless, that contest produced the largest U.S. television audience of any game throughout the 2022 World Cup, totaling 11.28 million despite a 10 a.m. ET kickoff.

Although the knockout stage’s opening game delivered the largest audience, it was the Final between Argentina and France that netted the second-highest domestic viewership during the knockout stages. The tournament’s thrilling finale earned 9.02 million total household viewers on FOX, as Argentina triumphed in a shootout to win its third World Cup title. Notably, it ranked third overall during the tournament, also finishing behind the U.S.-England matchup during group play. By comparison, the 2022 MLS Cup Final drew 2.83 million viewers on FOX six weeks earlier. The World Cup Final’s audience figure ultimately elevated the knockout stage average to 5 million fans per game, 98.2% higher than the average viewership for group stage matches. Of the 16 games we examined, 14 aired on FOX, and those averaged 5.44 million viewers. FS1 broadcast the other two to avoid conflicting with the parent network’s NFL obligations, with the England-Senegal and France-Poland Round of 16 games on December 4 averaging 1.91 million viewers.

MLS Cities Show Strong Soccer Support

Global events such as the World Cup often serve as launching pads for interest in their sport, which could prove vital to Major League Soccer as it continues to expand. MLS welcomes its 29th franchise in 2023 – St. Louis City SC – with hopes of attracting elevated attention for the Beautiful Game during the league’s second quarter-century. If interest in the World Cup across MLS markets is any indication, the league is in a strong position. We broke down the Final’s viewership by designated market area, revealing audiences exceeding 100,000 household viewers in 24 different cities – 17 of which will host an MLS side in 2023. Furthermore, Charlotte and Austin – homes to two of MLS’s newest organizations – finished just below the six-figure threshold with 93,933 and 86,234 viewers, respectively, for the World Cup finale.

Fourteen of the top 15 DMAs during the World Cup Final feature at least one MLS club, with both two-team markets leading the way. Los Angeles, where the LA Galaxy and LAFC reside, drew 783,544 viewers for the Argentina-France match. New York’s audience of 729,154 finished in a close second and Dallas-Fort Worth rounded out the top three with 422,803 viewers.

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Argentina, France Vie for Online Supremacy

The two teams that dispatched all comers en route to reaching the 2022 World Cup Final in Qatar were unsurprisingly the most engaging entities on social media throughout the tournament as well. Using MVP’s social platform, we examined content shared by the governing bodies of each nation to reach the knockout stage from the tournament’s opening day on November 20 through December 20, two days after its conclusion. In that time, Argentina and France ranked 1-2 in all major social metrics, though their order flipped depending on the category. The White and Sky Blue of Argentina earned the most engagements, finishing the month with 114.2 million in total – 19.8% more than France’s 95.3 million. However, France amassed 1.01 billion total impressions to pip Argentina’s 937.9 million by 7.4%. Both nations exceeded $20M in total post value, with France generating $22.1M and Argentina creating $20.6M. England finished third in impressions with 826.7 million and post value with $18M, while Brazil ranked third in total engagements by earning 67.6 million. Meanwhile, the U.S. Men’s National Team ranked 10th out of 16 entities in engagements with 12.4 million and sixth in impressions with 347.4 million.

As an extension of our analysis, we studied the social metrics of each tournament semifinalist during the week ending December 18 – the day of the Final. Throughout those seven days, Argentina earned 47.4 million engagements to lead the group as France won the impressions crown with 348.8 million and Cinderella story Morocco boasted the highest engagement rate at 9.13%.

Messi Makes His Mark on Social

Soccer is often driven by superstars, and little doubt remains about who the game’s most popular players are. On the grandest stage, a trio of athletes stood taller than the rest. Argentine Lionel Messi captained his side to a title; Frenchman Kylian Mbappé became just the second player in history to record a hat trick in the World Cup Final; and Cristiano Ronaldo led his Portuguese side to the top of Group H and ultimately the quarterfinals. Each created more than 200 million social impressions from November 20-December 20, with Messi topping the threesome by creating 521.6 million. Among the lasting pieces of social content from the 2022 World Cup was his celebratory Instagram post with the trophy held high overhead. On its own, it was responsible for 76.8 million engagements. The record-breaking post elevated Messi’s total to 562.9 million, outpacing Ronaldo’s total by 75.7% and besting Mbappé by 4.28x.

North American World Cup Is on the Clock

In the U.S., soccer is far from surpassing American football in terms of interest, but the World Cup Final proved the sport’s headlining events can compete with the gridiron for viewership preeminence. The Argentina-France matchup on December 18 outdrew all six early-afternoon NFL games that day. Airing on FOX, it was the lead-in for a set of regional matchups whose average audience of 4.56 million equaled only 50.5% of the viewers who watched Argentina earn its third star.

With the 22nd World Cup in the rearview mirror, thus begins a four-year qualifying cycle ahead of the next spectacle in 2026, which will take place in 16 venues across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. But immediately on the horizon, stay connected with MVP for unique soccer insights related to the 2023 MLS campaign and this summer’s Women’s World Cup co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

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