For the first time in 11 years, the Women’s World Cup is coming to network television.
Fox Sports confirmed on Tuesday that it will air 16 matches live on over-the-air Fox next June and July, the most World Cup matches (men or women) ever airing on an over-the-air network. Those matches include one WWC semifinal on either June 30 or July 1, the third-place game on July 4 and the final at BC Place in Vancouver on July 5.
It is the first time since 2003 that any Women’s World Cup matches have been scheduled for over-the-air broadcast in the U.S. The 2015 WWC is an expanded tournament with 24 teams and 52 matches (up from 32).
The top-ranked U.S. team (based on the current FIFA world ranking) will compete in an opening group with Sweden (ranked No. 5 in the world), Australia (No. 10) and Nigeria (No. 35).
“This is the most extensive coverage of the Women’s World Cup that has ever been permeated in the United States,” said David Nathanson, the general manager for Fox Sports 1 and 2 and the former GM of the Fox Soccer Channel. “I think our broadcast commitment is demonstrative of how strongly we believe not only in the women’s game but in soccer in general. I don’t think anyone will question Fox’s commitment to making this the new home field for soccer in the U.S.”
Additionally, Fox Sports 1 will air 30 WWC matches, including the entire round of 16, two quarterfinal matches and one semifinal. The remaining six games are slated for Fox Sports 2. In total, Fox Sports will televise all 52 WWC games of the tournament from six cities across Canada beginning June 6. Look for Fox to assign on-air reporters for nearly every game and to load up heavy on covering the United States team.
Nathanson said Fox’s relationship with the U.S. women’s national team has been building for months, and he expects terrific access to the team. Fox said all games will be available on tablets and mobile devices via the Fox Sports Go app and online at FoxSportsGo.com
In terms of shoulder programming, Fox Sports officials said the network will air close to 200 hours of total coverage from the tournament including pre- and post-game coverage. Nathanson said soccer viewers should expect the daily average of soccer programming during the WWC to be between six and seven hours a day. He would not reveal the time commitments for any specific pre- or post-game programming blocks but guaranteed scale.
“One thing no one will question after this World Cup is our commitment to covering it,” Nathanson said. “There will be more real estate focused on covering the events, leading up to the events, reviewing what just happened at that event, and reviewing the tournament as a whole, then ever has been dedicated to the Women’s World Cup.”
Nathanson said broadcast talent announcements will come after the New Year (On Tuesday Fox announced that Alexi Lalas had been hired from ESPN, most likely to do studio work including the WWC). He suggested that some of the staffers working the pre- and post-game for the tournament will come from outside the U.S. Asked specifically who would call the semis and finals of the tournament, Nathanson said, “The ink is still dry on some of our talent deals, and some of the ink has yet to hit the paper.”
Of interest for some: Gus Johnson will not be calling any of the games.
ESPN has aired the last five Women’s World Cup tournaments including televising 32 matches in 1999, 2007 and 2011. The 2011 WWC final – Japan beating the U.S. in a penalty shootout -- drew 13.458 million viewers on ESPN. At the time it was the sixth most watched soccer telecast ever in the United States.
The most-watched women’s soccer match in U.S. television history remains the 1999 WWC final between the U.S. and China. That match drew 17.975 million viewers on ABC. The network has rightly received praise for its World Cup coverage (both for the men and women) and there are many diehard soccer fans skeptical of how Fox will air the tournaments now that it has the rights to both the men’s and women’s World Cups through 2022.
“I would encourage them to watch us, period,” Nathanson said. “Our commitment is going to be shown on the screen in all the hours of work, the resources, the marketing and promotion and the accumulation of talent. It is all going to come together in the final product. I think it’s going to move the game to new levels and I think we are going to be a big part of that."