SBD/July 3, 2014/Media

ESPN, Univision Combine For 21.6 Million Viewers For Belgium-U.S. World Cup Match

ESPN and Univision combined to draw 21.59 million viewers for Tuesday's Belgium-U.S. FIFA World Cup Round of 16 match. ESPN’s 16.49 million viewers marks the third-best audience for a soccer match in U.S. TV history, behind only ESPN’s U.S.-Portugal match on June 22 (18.22 million) and the '99 U.S.-China Women’s World Cup Final on ABC (17.98 million). Univision finished with 5.1 million viewers for Belgium-U.S. That figure is below the net’s 6.5 million viewers for U.S.-Portugal, and well below the net’s 10.4 million viewers for the Netherlands-Mexico Round of 16 match on Sunday, which marked the most-viewed Spanish-language program in U.S. TV history. The audience for Belgium-U.S. was ahead of the 4.2 million viewers Univision drew in '02 for the U.S.-Mexico Round of 16 match. ESPN/ESPN2/ABC are averaging 4.08 million viewers through the Round of 16, marking a record World Cup audience for the company. For the Round of 16 alone, Univision saw a record audience. The first knockout stage averaged 4.4 million viewers on the Spanish-language net (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor). In L.A., Ryan Faughnder wrote the audience is an "impressive feat" for ESPN, especially considering that many U.S. fans "were still at work" with a 1:00pm PT start time (LATIMES.com, 7/2). The AP's David Bauder noted it is an "impressive total for a weekday afternoon that almost certainly undercounts how many people actually saw it." Nielsen does "not measure viewership in bars, offices or other public places." ESPN in '10 estimated that the "stated audience size for weekday World Cup games would increase" by 23% if public viewing were taken into account (AP, 7/2).
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
7/1/14
World Cup Round of 16: Belgium-U.S.
ESPN
9.8
16,491
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
 

DIGITAL FRONT: WatchESPN drew 1.107 million unique viewers for Belgium-U.S., marking a record audience on the platform for any event. The previous record was set during Germany-U.S. in the group stage. Univision Digital also had its best day on record on Tuesday with 5.6 million combined streams for Argentina-Switzerland and Belgium-U.S. (Karp).

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: The FINANCIAL TIMES' Shannon Bond notes the Belgium-U.S. game generated a 50% "surge in live streaming compared with the previous record," set during the '12 London Games. That shows the sport's appeal "has grown particularly among younger, more digital fans." Those fans also are "flocking to social media." Facebook has seen more than 1 billion posts, likes and comments since the tournament started, making it "the most talked about event in the social network's history." Data from analytics group Brandwatch shows that the World Cup also has been mentioned 20 million times on Twitter (FINANCIAL TIMES, 7/3).

BUILD A STRONG FOUNDATION: In Chicago, Ed Sherman writes the "entire scenario does beg the question of whether the World Cup has become the Olympics version of soccer for U.S. sports fans?" Once every four years, figure skating and gymnastics "pull in big numbers for NBC, then pretty much fade from view." ESPN Senior VP/Research & Analytics Artie Bulgrin said, "There's no question the World Cup is in a class by itself in terms of interest." However, he thinks that a "different dynamic is at work for soccer." Bulgrin contends that the "momentum has been building with increased ratings" for the EPL and other int'l soccer telecasts in recent years (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 7/3). In N.Y., Filip Bondy writes the World Cup "goes on now without the plucky Americans, and we all know the level of interest in the States takes a steep dive." The watch parties "dwindle to a precious few hard-core fans, the TV ratings for MLS matches will continue to be embarrassing, at least for now, and talk radio stops riffing and starts ripping again" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/3). In Toronto, Kurtis Larson writes soccer "still hasn't arrived" in the U.S. While TV ratings "are up, it's not as close to arriving as we once thought" (TORONTO SUN, 7/3).

STAYING AHEAD OF THE CURVE: In K.C., Sam McDowell noted U.S. men's national team member and Sporting KC D Matt Besler is "scheduled for a national media tour Friday morning that includes stops" at "SportsCenter," "GMA," "Morning Joe," "SVP & Russillo" and CNN, along with several others (KANSASCITY.com, 7/2). 

NORTHERN EXPOSURE: A record 29.5 million Canadians have tuned in to World Cup coverage provided by the CBC/Radio-Canada and its partners. That eclipses the CBC's cumulative reach for the entire '10 World Cup. Five of the eight knockout-stage matches averaged audiences in excess of 2 million, highlighted by 2.7 million viewers taking in Belgium-U.S. (CBC).
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