Thursday, December 18, 2014

U.S.-Portugal ties record for most-watched soccer game in American TV history

Updated June 24 with revised online audience metrics, and again on July 2 with some minor corrections

U.S.-Portugal ties record for most-watched soccer game in American TV history

The World Cup is attracting record audiences on television. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
The World Cup is attracting record audiences on television. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

Updated June 24 with revised online audience metrics, and again on July 2 with some minor corrections

There's no need for a fancy introduction to this post. The headline writes itself.

Sunday's United States-Portugal World Cup game tied the record for the most-watched soccer broadcast in American television history, drawing a combined 24.7 million viewers between ESPN and Univision — and putting it on par with the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands.

Every record on the books when it comes to soccer on TV was either matched or beaten this weekend. Here's a rundown of all the big numbers.

ESPN's broadcast drew an average of 18,220,000 viewers. That is the highest viewership for any English-language soccer broadcast on any network, whether over-the-air or pay-TV, in American history. It is also an all-time record for U.S. national team viewership, whether men's or women's.

The previous English-language record for soccer viewership was held by the 1999 United States vs. China Women's World Cup final, which drew 17.975 million viewers on ABC. 

The previous English-language record for a U.S. men's national team game was held by the 2010 United States vs. Ghana World Cup Round of 16 game, which drew 15.193 million viewers on ABC.

The previous English-language record for any soccer game was held by the 2010 Spain vs. Netherlands World Cup Final, which drew 15.905 million viewers on ABC.

ESPN's audience Sunday night peaked at a whopping 22.961 million viewers beween 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. Eastern, the last half-hour of the dramatic 2-2 draw.

Locally, ESPN's broadcast drew approximately 320,000 viewers in the Philadelphia region.

Nationally, the average of 18.220 million viewers was the biggest in ESPN history for any broadcast that was not a live NFL or college gridiron football game.

In addition to the TV audience, ESPN's online stream for U.S.-Portugal drew approximately 490,000 viewers. That brings the networks' total audience across the two platforms to 18,710,000 viewers.

Univision's broadcast drew an average of 6.5 million viewers. That number obliterated the network's previous U.S. national team viewership record of 4.8 million viewers for the U.S.-Ghana game on June 16.

Just as importantly - and perhaps more so - Univision's U.S.-Portugal viewership total was just 300,000 viewers below the 6.8 million who watched Mexico's blockbuster draw against Brazil on June 17. That game set a new Univision record for all-time World Cup group stage viewership.

Yes, the U.S. game was on a Sunday night instead of a weekday afternoon; and yes, Cristiano Ronaldo was playing; and yes, there were a lot of cord-cutters. Still, for a U.S. national team World Cup game to almost run Mexico and Brazil to a dead heat in terms of viewership is a stunning accomplishment for American soccer.

(And it might send a message to those who still diminish the importance of the Hispanic community in American soccer's present and future.)

Univision's online viewership was 248,000 people.

Adding up all of the figures here, the aggregated television and online audience for ESPN and Univision's U.S-Portugal broadcasts was 25,498,000 people. 

On top of that, tens of thousands of fans watched at bars and viewing parties. Nielsen can't count them, because there's no accurate way to. As such, the true total number of viewers will never be known. But there's no question that Sunday's game was by far the most-watched soccer broadcast in American history.

As I wrote above, the previous high water mark was 24.7 million television viewers for the 2010 World Cup final. Spain-Netherlands four years ago drew 15.9 million viewers on ABC and 8.8 million on Univision. There was an online audience too, but the audience wasn't big enough and the metrics weren't advanced enough for that group to have been worth measuring at the time.

For now, television viewership still matters more than online viewership to both broadcasters and advertisers. If the "average minute audience" metric becomes widely used, that will help. But we aren't there yet. 

This much is certain: Sunday night blew away the combined TV record for U.S. national team viewership The previous mark was set by the 2010 game against Ghana, which drew 19.4 million viewers.

Through the first 32 games of the World Cup, the ESPN family of networks (ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC) has drawn an average of 4,273,000 viewers. 

It's clear that Americans are tuning into the World Cup in record numbers. For soccer fans in this country - especially those who've been watching through multiple world cups - this year's milestones are very much worth celebrating.

Here is the updated ranking of the most-viewed soccer games in U.S. television history. Games from the 2014 World Cup are in bold:

English Only

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

6. Brazil vs. United States 1994 World Cup round of 16: 13.694 million on ABC (Monday, July 4)
7. United States vs. Japan 2011 Women's World Cup final: 13.458 million viewers on ESPN (Sunday, July 17)
8. United States vs. England 2010 World Cup group stage: 13.130 million viewers on ABC (Saturday, June 12)
9. Italy vs. France 2006 World Cup final on ABC: 11.961 million viewers on ABC (Sunday, July 9)
10. United States vs. Ghana 2014 group stage: 11.562 million viewers on ESPN and online (Monday, June 17, 2014) 2

1 - 18,220,000 on TV; 490,000 on ESPN's website and apps
2 - 11,093,000 on TV; 469,000 on ESPN's website and apps

Overall

1. United States vs. Portugal 2014 World Cup group stage: 25.502 million viewers on ESPN and 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. Ghana 2010 World Cup round of 16: 19.4 million viewers on ABC and Univision (Saturday, June 26)
4. Brazil vs. Italy 1994 World Cup final: 18.1 million viewers on ABC and Univision (Sunday, July 17)
5. United States vs. China 1999 Women's World Cup final: 18.0 million viewers on ABC (Saturday, July 10)
6. 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; 6,544,000 on Univision; 248,000 on Univision's website and apps

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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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