SBD/July 19, 2011/Media

Women's World Cup Final On ESPN Marks Sixth-Best U.S. Soccer Audience Ever

ESPN earned a 7.4 U.S. rating and 13.5 million viewers for the Japan-U.S. FIFA Women's World Cup Final on Sunday, marking the sixth most-viewed soccer telecasts ever in the U.S. The telecast also marks the highest-rated and most-viewed soccer telecast ever on ESPN, beating out last year's U.S.-Algeria men's World Cup match (6.2 million viewers), and also marks the second most-viewed daytime telecast ever on cable TV, behind only last year's TCU-Wisconsin Rose Bowl, which averaged 20.6 million viewers. Japan-U.S. also delivered 548,000 viewers on ESPN3.com, marking the broadband channel's best audience ever for a women's sporting event and eighth-best audience among all events (ESPN). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said, “You’re talking about the equivalent of major professional postseason ratings in our big sports over here" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/18).

MOST-VIEWED SOCCER MATCHES ALL-TIME IN THE U.S.
DATE
MATCH
NET
RATING
VIEWERS (000)
7/10/99
Women's World Cup Final: U.S.-China
ABC
11.4
17,975
7/11/10
World Cup Final: Spain-Netherlands
ABC
8.4
15,905
6/26/10
World Cup Round of 16: U.S.-Ghana
ABC
8.5
15,193
7/17/94
World Cup Final: Brazil-Italy
ABC
9.5
14,510
7/4/94
World Cup Round of 16: Brazil-U.S.
ABC
9.3
13,694
7/17/11
Women's World Cup Final: Japan-U.S.
ESPN
7.4
13,458
7/9/06
World Cup Final: Italy-France
ABC
7.0
11,961

FAIR AND BALANCED: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes it was “refreshing” during Japan-U.S. to hear ESPN announcers Ian Darke and Julie Foudy “play it nearly down the middle, offering praise for the Japanese players and providing personal tidbits about them, as if they were, well, American.” ESPN “did a better job of humanizing the players” than ABC did when it broadcast the ’99 U.S.-China final. However, Darke was “condescending, evoking stereotypes, when he called one player ‘the tricky little Maruyama.'” Meanwhile, there were “moments when one could sense Darke and Foudy were rooting for the United States,” but they were “not openly rooting.” The announcers “repeatedly chastised the United States team for its multiple failures to convert scoring opportunities, especially during the first half” (N.Y. TIMES, 7/19). On Long Island, Neil Best writes ESPN “deserves credit for its thorough coverage, and for keeping the American flag-waving to a relative minimum.” Foudy “did not hide that she was pulling for the United States," but she and Darke for the most part “struck a balance between objectivity and the understanding they were speaking to an American audience” (NEWSDAY, 7/19).

BACK TO REALITY: In DC, Deron Snyder notes the U.S. team’s “thrilling performance” during the tournament was a “big hit at home, generating huge TV ratings and saturation coverage in print, cyberspace and broadcast reports.” But “unfortunately for diehards, it won’t result in a dramatic reshuffling of our pro sports preferences.” Soccer “will still trail baseball, football, basketball and hockey, and women’s pro soccer will still struggle to be viable” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 7/19). In St. Louis, Brian Burwell writes the ratings "say as much about the patriotic habits of American sports fans as they say about their appetite for world-class soccer" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 7/19). The AP’s Jim Litke writes under the header, “Soccer Boom? No. Big Step Forward? Maybe.” Traffic on social media during Japan-U.S. was “eye-popping, … generating at its peak more tweets-per-second than either Britain’s royal wedding or the announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s death.” The U.S. team also will be “on the late-night and early-morning TV circuit this week.” But Litke writes there is “no need to waste time wondering whether soccer will ever be as popular on these shores as the big three of football, baseball and basketball.” Litke: “It won’t, for the next decade at least” (AP, 7/19).

FINDING THEIR FOOTING: In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote one “undeniable truth” that has emerged is that “after sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into women’s sports and forcing the revenue-sucking Title IX down a nation’s throats … there is an audience for women’s sports.” Engel: “The women who play and coach these sports should not necessarily just be happy with the status quo, and they should all be proud they have been part of a multi-generational movement that has established a tiny piece of footing that previously was likely thought as impossible” (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 7/18). L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said of the ratings Japan-U.S., “It’s amazing how women’s sports how far it’s come in this country" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/18). 
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