SBD/June 24, 2014/Media

U.S.-Portugal Delivers ESPN The Most-Viewed Soccer Match In U.S. TV History

ESPN earned a 9.6 final rating and 18.22 million viewers for Sunday’s U.S.-Portugal FIFA World Cup match from 6:00-8:00pm ET, marking the most-viewed soccer telecast in U.S. TV history. The previous record belonged to the '99 women’s World Cup final, which saw the U.S.-China match draw 17.98 million viewers. However, the '99 women’s finale drew an 11.4 rating, still the best for any domestic soccer telecast. U.S.-Portugal also marks ESPN’s best audience on record for a non-football game (college or NFL). The telecast peaked toward the end of the game in the 7:30-8:00pm window with 22.96 million viewers. WatchESPN also drew another 1.37 million viewers, setting a streaming record for the service. Univision drew 6.5 million viewers for the U.S.-Portugal match, setting a record for a game involving the U.S. team on the net. The combined 24.7 million viewers on Univision/ESPN for the game was just below ESPN's broadcast of the '14 Florida State-Auburn BCS National Championship, which drew 25.57 million viewers on a Monday night, and below Game 7 of the '13 Heat-Spurs NBA Finals, which drew a combined 26.59 viewers across ABC and ESPN Deportes. Meanwhile, ESPN drew a 3.4 final rating and 5.74 million viewers for Ghana-Germany on Saturday afternoon, tying the cable net's record audience for a World Cup match not involving the U.S. Ghana-Germany tied with ESPN's audience for the '06 Italy-Germany semifinal (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).

 

MOST-VIEWED SOCCER MATCHES ALL-TIME IN THE U.S.
DATE
MATCH
NETWORK
RATING
VIEWERS (000)
6/22/14
World Cup group stage: U.S.-Portugal
ESPN
9.6
18,220
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
PATRIOTISM APLENTY: In N.Y., Bill Carter notes while "not near the totals scored by the NFL playoffs or, certainly, the Super Bowl," the audience for U.S.-Portugal "easily eclipsed the NBA finals this year, which averaged 15.5 million viewers, as well as the 2013 World Series, which averaged 14.9 million viewers." However, as with "all major sports events, the numbers do not accurately reflect viewers who watched the game in groups -- in bars and other locations." Unless the U.S. advances to the knockout round, Sunday’s game "could be the high-water mark for World Cup ratings because the game was played during customary hours for sports viewing." The next U.S. game will be played Thursday at 12:00pm (N.Y. TIMES, 6/24). Also in N.Y., Oren Yaniv writes there were "numerous ingredients" that made Sunday’s game a "ratings bonanza." It was played at 6:00pm on "a non-NFL Sunday, leaving many Americans free to tune in, even if they had only a casual interest in the game." It was an "exciting, tense contest that went down to the wire." And the U.S "may have raised its expectations ... by beating Ghana in its opening game of pool play last week" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/24). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Keach Hagey writes under the header, "World Cup Draws Huge U.S. TV Viewership." The event has "taken its place among the very largest sporting events for American television audiences" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 6/24).

Will American viewership wane once U.S. team is
knocked out of World Cup?
SHORT-TERM SUCCESS
: THE ATLANTIC's Derek Thompson wrote there "isn't yet much evidence that rapt TV audiences from the World Cup will keep watching soccer between quadrennial worldwide championships." Soccer "isn't becoming America's new baseball," but instead, the World Cup is "becoming America's new Summer Olympics." The event is "essentially a single-sport Summer Olympics introducing tens of millions of viewers to a thrilling contest in a sport they typically don't care about." Thompson: "Unfortunately for America's soccer fans, the vast majority of yesterday's domestic viewers won't watch another soccer game between August and 2018" (THEATLANTIC.com, 6/23). CBS Sports Radio's John Feinstein last Friday during an appearance on DC-based WJFK-FM's "The Junkies" program said, "As soon as the Americans are out -- I mean, people are going to watch the final, obviously -- but let’s say the Americans lose in the round of 16. Or let’s say they … don’t make the knockout round. ... People aren’t going to watch the round of 16 games between whoever and whoever. They’ll watch the final no matter who plays, but again, go back to that 1999 women’s (tournament). It was about the fact that the USA was doing well. It wasn’t about the fact that people all of a sudden were enamored with women’s soccer" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 6/23).

TRACK RECORD: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Mike Shields wrote if advertisers "want an impartial estimate of how many people streamed the game online, they’re out of luck." That is because neither comScore nor Nielsen -- the "two biggest companies in third party audience research for the Web -- tracked the online audience." While both firms "occasionally provide timely data on online viewership for live events, neither regularly track that sort of thing." That highlights "a reality about the Web: despite how fast online video has grown over the last few years, and all the ad dollars that are pouring into the medium, there’s no third party measure of online video audiences either in real time, or even overnight time" (WSJ.com, 6/23).

NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS: SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote ESPN analyst Landon Donovan's appearances so far "have netted mixed results." Donovan is "a thoughtful interview but very low energy." He knows "his sports cold but needs work in providing specifics for viewers rather than platitudes." But it is "unfair, and quite frankly, impossible to judge Donovan's long-term broadcasting future on this assignment." He is "not getting a lot of time on camera and perhaps most importantly, he's filming his segments at ESPN's LA Live studios essentially in an empty room with one producer and a camera person." Donovan said that he has "watched his ESPN segments and he has a new appreciation for the job of analysts." He added, "I've said to (ESPN analysts) Taylor (Twellman) and Alexi (Lalas) on different occasions that, 'I don't appreciate what you said there.' Now being on the other side of it, you realize how difficult it is. You only have a few seconds to say something and every word matters. That's been a big learning curve." Donovan continued, "I wanted to make sure I could do it in a way that was being true to myself and honest and satisfying to what ESPN wanted. They don't want me going on there and being Mr. Positive all the time about everything when the reality is different." He added he is "a little bit mindful that if I am critical" of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who controversially left Donovan off the club's World Cup roster, a "lot of people are going to perceive that as bitterness." Donovan said that he is "interested in working for ESPN for the knockout round and beyond if ESPN management is interested in keeping him" (SI.com, 6/23).

ROOTING FOR THE HOME TEAM: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes there are "still things we don't get about ESPN's World Cup voices." Raissman: "Are the voices USA fans? Master motivators? Soccer broadcasters?" Lalas prior to Sunday's game talked about the "definition on what an American is." That was "misplaced" unless it was "designed to motivate viewers, make them cheer longer and louder." ESPN and its on-air talent are "emotionally invested in Team USA." Late in the second half on Sunday with the U.S. "clinging to a one-goal lead," game announcer Ian Darke said, "I'm getting the sense that there are people in homes and in bars who can barely watch this now." Twellman, a former member of the U.S. national team, replied, "Also the guy next to you. I'm dying here." Raissman writes, "Let's just say Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth would not have a similar exchange late in a tightly contested Super Bowl" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/24).
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Media, ESPN, FIFA World Cup, Univision

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