The United States’ 2-1 loss to Belgium in the World Cup will live long in our collective memories, and not just because of the chances the U.S. had to win the game.
It drew the largest weekday audience for soccer in the sport's history in America: 23,690,693 viewers across ESPN and Univision's TV and online platforms. That figure comes in at No. 3 on the all-time ranking, trailing only the June 22 U.S.-Portugal game and the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands.
ESPN's TV audience was 16.941 million, and its online audience was 1,107,000. The latter figure broke the previous online record of 1,050,000 set during the U.S.-Germany group stage finale. The former figure was the second-highest U.S. men's national team audience of all time, trailing only the U.S.-Portugal game.
Locally, the Philadelphia market delivered a 9.6 rating, the largest ever for any kind of soccer in this region. It equates to approximately 288,000 viewers.
Univision's national TV audience was 5.080 million, and its online audience was 562,693. Although neither figure set a record, both are still quite large.
The TV audience was its second-highest all-time viewership for a U.S. game, behind the Portugal game's 6.8 million. The online average minute audience notably outdrew Mexico's two biggest games in this World Cup, against Brazil in the group stage (541,000) and against the Netherlands in the round of 16 (303,000).
Univision did set some other digital records on Tuesday, including most overall streams (5.6 million) and most unique viewers for one game (1.8 million for U.S.-Belgium).
The difference between unique viewers and average minute audience is similar to how TV separates viewers for some portion of a broadcast and average viewers at any given time. In both cases, the latter figures are the industry standards for measuring audience.
As always, these numbers come with the disclaimer that large group viewings at bars, parks and offices are not counted. So the gigantic viewing parties in cities and stadiums across the United States can't be included. It's reasonable to conclude that the full audience was somewhere between 25 and 26 million viewers.
ESPN and Univision have put unprecedented amounts of time and money into their productions at this World Cup. The television and online audiences show that those investments are paying off not just for the two networks, but for the sport of soccer as a whole in this country.
You can be sure that executives at Fox and Telemundo are paying attention, as they prepare to take over the U.S. rights to all FIFA tournaments from 2015 through 2022.
There's one other thing I can't help noting. Had the U.S. beaten Belgium, their quarterfinal game a noon Eastern time kickoff Saturday on ABC and Univision against Argentina.
It would have been ABC's first U.S. game broadcast at this World Cup, which would have brought in viewers who don't have cable. And it would have been against a South American superpower led by the great Lionel Messi. That would have boosted the audiences in both English and Spanish.
Alas, that pinnacle will not be reached. So we can only dream of how big an audience the game would have attracted. It surely would have beaten every record on the books, and it might well have held up through next weekend's World Cup final.
On top of that, given the time differences between the U.S. and Russia and Qatar, it's entirely conceivable that the record might have stood through 2018 and 2022.
The bar has been set for Fox and Telemundo, and it may well be raised again between now and July 13. We will see how much higher it goes, and whether the new rights-holders can get there over the next eight years.
Here are the latest charts. The links in the first one go to my previous reports on those games.
United States 2014 World Cup Games
||TV only total
||Online only total
Most-Watched Soccer Games of All Time
(Games from the 2014 World Cup are in bold)
1. United States vs. Portugal 2014 World Cup group stage: 18.710 million viewers on ESPN and online (Sunday, June 22) 1
2. United States vs. Belgium 2014 World Cup round of 16: 18.048 million viewers on ESPN and online (Tuesday, July 1) 2
3. United States vs. China 1999 Women's World Cup final: 17.975 million viewers on ABC (Saturday, July 10)
4. Netherlands vs. Spain 2010 World Cup final: 15.905 million viewers on ABC (Sunday, July 11)
5. United States vs. Ghana 2010 World Cup round of 16: 15.193 million viewers on ABC (Saturday, June 26)
6. Italy vs. Brazil 1994 World Cup final on ABC: 14.510 million viewers on ABC (Sunday, July 17)
7. Brazil vs. United States 1994 World Cup round of 16: 13.694 million on ABC (Monday, July 4)
8. United States vs. Japan 2011 Women's World Cup final: 13.458 million viewers on ESPN (Sunday, July 17)
9. United States vs. England 2010 World Cup group stage: 13.130 million vewers on ABC (Saturday, June 12)
10. Italy vs. France 2006 World Cup final on ABC: 11.961 million viewers on ABC (Sunday, July 9)
11. United States vs. Germany 2014 group stage: 11.821 million on ESPN and online (Thursday, June 26, 2014) 3
12. United States vs. Ghana 2014 group stage: 11.562 million viewers on ESPN (Monday, June 17, 2014) 4
1 - 18,220,000 on TV; 490,000 on ESPN's website and apps
2 - 16,941,000 on TV; 1,107,000 on ESPN's website and apps
3 - 10,771,000 on TV; 1,050,000 on ESPN's website and apps
4 - 11,093,000 on TV; 469,000 on ESPN's website and apps
1. United States vs. Portugal 2014 World Cup group stage: 26.035 million viewers on ESPN, Univision and online (Sunday, June 22) 1
2. Netherlands vs. Spain 2010 World Cup Final: 24.7 million viewers on ABC and Univision (Saturday, July 10)
3. United States vs. Belgium 2014 World Cup round of 16: 23.691 million viewers on ESPN, Univision and online (Tuesday, July 1) 2
4. United States vs. Ghana 2010 World Cup round of 16: 19.4 million viewers on ABC and Univision (Saturday, June 26)
5. Brazil vs. Italy 1994 World Cup final: 18.1 million viewers on ABC and Univision (Sunday, July 17)
6. United States vs. China 1999 Women's World Cup final: 18.0 million viewers on ABC (Saturday, July 10)
7. Netherlands vs. Mexico 2014 World Cup round of 16: 17.274 million on ESPN, Univision and online (Sunday, June 29) 3
8. United States vs. England 2010 World Cup group stage: 17.1 million on ABC and Univision (Saturday, June 12)
1 - 18,220,000 on ESPN; 490,000 on ESPN's website and apps; 6,500,000 on Univision; 825,000 on Univision's website and apps
2 - 16,941,000 on ESPN; 1,107,000 on ESPN's website and apps; 5,080,000 on Univision; 562,693 on Univision's website and apps
3 - 6,571,000 on ESPN; 10,400,000 on Univision; 303,000 on Univision's website and apps