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ESPN's United States-Ghana World Cup broadcast sets record

If you thought just about everyone you know was watching the United States' thrilling 2-1 win over Ghana at the World Cup, you were right. And not just if you're a soccer fan.

ESPN's United States-Ghana World Cup broadcast sets record

Updated June 24 and July 30 with revised online audience metrics.

If you thought just about everyone you know was watching the United States' thrilling 2-1 win over Ghana at the World Cup, you were right. And not just if you're a soccer fan.

ESPN announced Tuesday afternoon that the game drew an audience of 11.093 million viewers, making it the most-watched men's soccer game in the company's history.

It was also the second-most-watched live sporting event of any kind on ESPN in 2014, trailing only college football's BCS national title game on January 6 (25.572 million viewers). 

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The national ratings number was 6.3, which was also a ESPN record for men's soccer. Locally, Philadelphia produced a 7.0 rating, ranked 18th out of metered markets nationally. From what I understand, that works out to around 210,000 viewers.

For all 2014 World Cup broadcasts on ESPN so far, Philadelphia is averaging a 3.1 local rating per game. That is tied for 16th among all markets with Baltimore and Sacramento. It translates to around 93,000 viewers per game.

More context on soccer's current place in the national sports landscape comes from Awful Announcing's Steve Lepore:

Univsion drew 4.849 million television viewers to its Spanish-language broadcast. It was the network's biggest audience ever for a U.S. national team game. Univision said it beat ESPN head-to-head in the Los Angeles, Dallas and Miami markets.

The combined television viewership across both networks was 15.942 million.

Online, the game drew 469,000 viewers through the WatchESPN app and website. So the combined ESPN audience was 11.562 million viewers. 

Univision's online audience was 160,192 viewers, so its combined audience was 4.960 million.

The entire aggregate audience for ESPN and Univision via TV and online platforms was 16,571,192 viewers.

Tracking digital viewership is difficult. In years to come, unique digital visitors will gain importance for networks and advertisers, but we aren't there yet. The most important numbers overall still come from television alone - in part because the online metrics aren't quite sophisticated enough yet to measure audience in the way we can with TV.

Right now, the industry uses "average minute audience" as its equivalent to television viewership. So the 469,000 figure I referenced above was ESPN.com's average minute audience for U.S.-Ghana.

With that in mind, here's where Monday's game lands in the American soccer history books.

Taking the ESPN number alone, the only soccer game of any kind that produced a bigger television audience on any ESPN network was the the 2011 Women's World Cup final. The United States' loss in a penalty shootout to Japan drew just shy of 13.5 million viewers. That remains the most-watched soccer game in cable television history.

It is a safe bet that record will fall Sunday night, when the U.S. men play Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in Manaus at 6 p.m. Eastern. ESPN's main network will have the broadcast.

The most-viewed English-language U.S. men's national team soccer broadcast on any channel was the U.S.-Ghana game at the 2010 World Cup. It drew 15.1 million viewers on ABC. Monday's game came up short of that record.

It takes something special for a pay-TV broadcast to beat a network television record, because even in 2014, not everyone has cable or satellite subscriptions. But Sunday's game could do it.

The 2010 U.S.-Ghana game also holds the record for the highest overall viewership for a U.S. national team game when English and Spanish viewers are combined. It drew a total of 19.6 million viewers combined between ABC (15.1 milliion) and Univision (4.5 million).

Can Sunday's game draw four million viewers more than Monday's did? At the rate things are going, it just might.

Univision's ratings for soccer of all kinds have skyrocketed over the last four years. And as we've all seen, ESPN is all-in on the U.S. national team after Monday's dramatics.

Add it all up and we may see multiple records fall Sunday night.

But will Sunday's game take down the biggest record of all? The biggest viewership for any soccer game in American television history belongs to the 2010 World Cup final. It drew a combined 24.7 million viewers on ABC (15.9 million) and Univision (8.8 million). That's nearly nine million more people than watched Monday's game.

If ABC had Sunday's showdown instead of ESPN, I'd have no doubt that the record would fall. With the English-language broadcast on cable, it seems a reach. It will probably take huge increases from both ESPN and Univision to hit the mark.

But as John Brooks proved yesterday, at this World Cup anything is possible.

Here, as far as I know, are the rankings for the most-watched soccer games in American television history. It is compiled based on past reports by the Wall Street JournalESPN and Nielsen, and conversations with sources.

English Only

1. United States vs. China 1999 Women's World Cup final: 17.975 million viewers on ABC (Saturday, July 10)
2. Netherlands vs. Spain 2010 World Cup final: 15.905 mllion viewers on ABC (Sunday, July 11)
3. United States vs. Ghana 2010 World Cup round of 16: 15.193 million viewers on ABC (Saturday, June 26)
4. Italy vs. Brazil 1994 World Cup final on ABC: 14.510 million viewers on ABC (Sunday, July 17)
5. Brazil vs. United States 1994 World Cup round of 16: 13.695 million viewers on ABC (Monday, July 4)

6. United States vs. Japan 2011 Women's World Cup final: 13.458 million viewers on ESPN (Sunday, July 17)
7. United States vs. England 2010 World Cup group stage: 13.130 million viewers on ABC (Saturday, June 12)
8. Italy vs. France 2006 World Cup final on ABC: 11.961 million viewers on ABC (Sunday, July 9)
9. United States vs. Ghana 2014 group stage: 11.562 million viewers on ESPN and online (Monday, June 17, 2014) 1

1 - 11,093,000 on TV, 469,000 online 

Overall

1. Netherlands vs. Spain 2010 World Cup Final: 24.7 million viewers on ABC and Univision (Saturday, July 10)
2. United States vs. Ghana 2010 World Cup round of 16: 19.4 million viewers on ABC and Univision (Saturday, June 26)
3. Brazil vs. Italy 1994 World Cup final: 18.1 million viewers on ABC and Univision (Sunday, July 17)
4. United States vs. China 1999 Women's World Cup final: 18.0 million viewers on ABC (Saturday, July 10)
5. United States vs. England 2010 World Cup group stage: 17.1 million on ABC and Univision (Saturday, June 12)

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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