FOX Sports Insider
When the second FIFA World Cup was staged in Italy in 1934, the schedule was unrecognizable from the kind of thing we might expect today.
Without the need to spend a moment considering the needs of a television viewing audience — because no one had TVs yet — the tournament’s organizers kept things straight and simple. The eight games from the round of 16 (including the United States’ crushing 7-1 defeat to the host nation) were staged on the same day, at the same time.
The four quarterfinals, same thing. The two semis? Yep, you get the picture. The whole event was wrapped in 14 days.
Thankfully, for those of us who are at our happiest parked on the couch, consuming the best sports has to offer, those days are consigned to the distant past.
As we look ahead to 2026, North America’s geography and time-zone structure, combined with the basic logistical need to get through a whopping 72 group stage games, means that, for the first time, there are likely to be five allocated time windows per day during the early part of the competition.
That would compare with four in Qatar in 2022, when the initial games began at 1 p.m. local time and the day’s program would end with a 10 p.m. kickoff slot. In 2014 in Brazil and 2018 in Russia, with exceptions on a couple of days only, it was usually three matches per day.
Five would be quite something as a TV spectacle (and a feat of endurance), on a par with the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule or conference championship weekend in college football. Or the first week of March Madness, except with the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Vinicius Jr., Jude Bellingham, and maybe Iceland’s Skol-ing fans involved instead.
And when the schedule is released for the 2026 World Cup (Feb. 4, 3 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App), to be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada, the process will lay out the most expansive slate of nonstop action in the tournament’s history, a feast of 104 matches spread over up to 39 days.
That is wall-to-wall soccer, and then some.
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Now, fans realizing they didn’t want to just watch the World Cup, but they want to watch all of the World Cup, is actually a relatively recent phenomenon.
The first tournament where every match had its own unique time window — apart from the final round of group stage games, to avoid collusion — was as recent as 1998. Even the 1994 tournament in the United States, seen as being a major commercial breakthrough that ushered in a new era in world soccer, had some simultaneous kickoffs and not every game could be easily accessed on television.
Since then, soccer has become an ingrained part of American sporting culture, and a long list of global events are on their way here. This summer will see South America’s continental championship, the Copa America, staged on American soil. In 2025, the vastly expanded Club World Cup will bring the best individual player on the planet to various cities in the United States.
The men’s World Cup in 2026 might be followed by the women’s version a year later, depending on how the voting process plays out, while the Olympic Games are to be held in Los Angeles in 2028.
In a recent conversation with Alexi Lalas, the FOX soccer analyst and former US national team defender marveled at how things have shifted for the American soccer fan.
“I remember as a kid, and we were completely starved of access of top level soccer,” Lalas told me. “There would be these occasional highlight shows, if you were really lucky, a VHS tape of a game might arrive in the mail, sent from a friend or a relative overseas. It is a different world now. American fans get to watch more soccer than anyone. It is kind of mind-blowing.”
VHS tapes, all-at-once schedules, two-week World Cups … they’re all gone now.
Soccer tournaments these days provide two things: an absolute smorgasbord of matches, and the unimpaired opportunity to watch all of them.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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