Controversy has swirled around this year’s World Cup soccer tournament in Qatar. From allegations of bribery and fraud in organizing the tournament for the small, wealthy Middle Eastern nation, to criticism of Qatar’s crackdown on the LGBTQ+ community and its treatment of labor immigration
However, judging by viewership metrics after the first week of matches, critical coverage doesn’t have much of an impact on ratings.
In the US, broadcasters Fox Sports and Telemundo, which run the tournament in English and Spanish respectively, got off to a good start. Sunday’s opening match between hosts Qatar and Ecuador was watched live by an average of about 7 million people on both networks. An average of 4 million people watched Spanish-language broadcasts on the digital platforms of Telemundo, Peacock and Telemundo Deportes, a 164% increase in the opening match of the 2018 World Cup between Russia and Saudi Arabia. English-speaking viewers on Fox grew 78% in 2018, with a peak of 3.5 million people watching the match, compared with 1.7 million who watched the opening match in 2018.
But things really start when the US plays on Monday. Nearly 12 million viewers on Fox and Telemundo watched the 1-1 draw with Wales, with an average of 8.3 million viewers on Fox across broadcast and digital platforms and 3.4 million on the language service. Spain.
Tuesday’s match between Mexico and Poland attracted an average of 4.6 million Telemundo and Peacock viewers across all platforms.
Fox has been careful to avoid any criticism of host country Qatar, with its online hosts ignoring any and all controversial topics. Fox has a sponsorship deal with a sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways and several Visit Qatar attractions ran during the channel’s World Cup coverage, but Fox has denied the sponsorship deals are affecting its reach. channel coverage.
North of the border, Canada’s opening game against Belgium drew an average of 3.7 million viewers on sports channel TSN, the main CTV network and the French-language RDS channel.
TSN parent company Bell Media says spectators made the match the most watched World Cup group stage match in history, citing overnight data from Numeris (Canada’s Nielsen). The last time Canada participated in the World Cup was in 1988. The inaugural match was the second most watched sports program of the year in Canada, behind only Super Bowl LVI.
Overall, the match was watched by 8.9 million viewers, or about a quarter of Canadians who watched some or all of the live broadcast, ending with a 1–0 win for Belgium.
The all-sports network TSN has avoided discussing human rights in Qatar and other controversies, but Omar Sachedina, host of CTV News, was in Doha to cover political stories. , covering around migrant workers and restrictions on visiting football fans, CTV’s W5 news magazine program on November 26 will feature a segment exploring the World’s host country. Cup, including concerns about discrimination and abuse in oil-rich Qatar, leading up to the tournament.
In the UK, the BBC has taken a stronger stance on issues in Qatar, shifting coverage of Sunday’s opening ceremony away from the station’s main channel to a human rights message presented by presenter Gary Lineker. display.
But that position does not appear to have dampened the English’s appetite for World Cup football. A peak of 8 million people tuned in to BBC radio to watch England beat Iran 6-2 in the first game of the tournament on Monday. Although viewership for the team’s opening match against Tunisia at the 2018 World Cup in Russia dropped significantly — peaking at 18.6 million — it should be noted that that match took place in the evening, while The match against Iran is broadcast outside prime time at 1pm in the UK. The BBC said an additional 8 million people watched Monday’s match on iPlayer.
With a prime time slot of 7pm on Friday and facing their centuries-old arch-enemy, Britain’s game against the US will prove to be a much bigger draw, though the overall numbers may not be. known due to the large number of people watching in pubs.
Meanwhile, Wales, taking part in the World Cup for the first time since 1958, beat local rivals in terms of spectators, with a peak of around 13 million people watching the full 1-1 clash. their struggle with the US on ITV (a number that was certainly supported before 7pm start time).
When England and Wales finally meet at 7pm on Tuesday, November 29, the evening time frame and the fact that the two neighbors have never played each other in a World Cup before, will create an opportunity. ratings association for the BBC.
However, in Germany, where the official World Cup broadcasters ARD and ZDF have widely reported on human rights abuses in Qatar and called for a boycott of the tournament, viewership has so far plummeted compared to with previous World Cups.
Germany’s surprise 1-2 loss to Japan on Wednesday drew only 9.2 million viewers on ARD, though an early start time—2 p.m. in Germany—could also play a role. some. Audiences were just a fraction of the nearly 26 million people who watched Germany’s 2018 World Cup opener in Russia (also Mannschaft’s 0-1 defeat to Mexico).
Sunday’s opening match, in which hosts Qatar lost 0-2 to Ecuador, attracted only 6.2 million Germans watching on ZDF. For comparison: more than 10 million Germans watched the opening match between Russia and Saudia Arabia at the 2018 World Cup.
In a team photo before the game, the German players covered their mouths in silent protest against soccer’s governing body FIFA, which threatened to sanction players if they wore the seven-color “OneLove” armbands. rainbow as part of a campaign to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ rights. Consensus relationships between members of the same sex are illegal in Qatar. FIFA announced that the captain’s armband violated a ban on “political symbols”.
“Even without the captain’s armband, our position still stands,” said the official tweet from the German Football Association (DFB), with images of players covering their mouths. “We want to set an example for the values we live by in the national team: diversity and mutual respect. To raise our voice together with other countries. This is not a political message: human rights are non-negotiable.”
Wir wollten mit unserer Kapitänsbinde ein Zeichen setzen für Werte, die wir in der Nationalmannschaft leben: Vielfalt und ggenenseitiger Respekt. Gemeinsam mit anderen Nationen laut sein. Es geht dabei nicht um eine politische Botschaft: Menschenrechte sind nicht verhandelbar. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/v9ngfv0ShW
— DFB Team (@DFB_Team) November 23, 2022
While the German players did not wear the OneLove captain’s armband, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser proudly wore hers while watching the match, sitting next to FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
The OneLove controversy has cost Germany: one of the national team’s sponsors, supermarket chain Rewe, has canceled its agreement with the German Football Association after the team surrendered to demands of FIFA to give up the captain’s armband.
“We represent diversity and football is also very diverse,” Rewe boss Lionel Souque said in a statement. “Fifa’s scandalous behavior to me, as CEO of a diversified company and also a football fan, is completely unacceptable.”
After Germany’s loss to Japan, some local media blamed the controversy surrounding OneLove’s captaincy and the team’s pre-match protest.
“There’s too much drama in the build-up, too many issues that are more important than football, like four years ago [when Germany went out in the first round], former Germany captain and 1990 World Cup winner Lothar Matthäus in the tabloid Bild. “Things like that mess up your focus, it distracts you – and so that means you’re probably missing the important 5 or 10 percent.”
There was little mention of the protests or controversies on Japanese public broadcaster NHK, which achieved an impressive 40.6% share of the Tokyo market when it came to coverage of the Germany vs Japan match. Japan, although Japan’s match started late at 10pm. Millions more watched the game on streaming platform Abema, with peak viewership hitting a record 10 million on Wednesday, according to parent company CyberAgent Inc.
There was also no sign of protest when reigning World Cup champions France took the field in their opening match against Australia on Tuesday. Les Bleus also had no problem attracting a home audience. According to data from ratings group Médiamétrie, 12.53 million locals watched the national TV channel TF1 to watch the French team beat Australia 4-1, the same number as 12.59 Millions of spectators watched France’s opening match, also against Australia, in Russia 2018.
Alex Ritman in London and Etan Vlessing in Toronto contributed to this report.