The U.S. men’s national team may be about to produce an indelible moment for soccer in America.
The USMNT’s victory over Ghana last night drew a combined 15.9 million viewers between ESPN and spanish-language Univision. ESPN alone drew 11.1 million viewers for the match, making it the most-watched men’s soccer game in network history. It’s worth noting that the English-language numbers are actually down from the United States’ first match in 2010, as that game drew 13 million viewers on ABC on a Saturday afternoon.
ESPN set World Cup records in 16 different local markets, including many cities where soccer is already pretty popular. That list includes Washington (which led all markets with an 11.8 rating), New York, Hartford, Baltimore, Providence, Orlando, Buffalo, Charlotte, Dayton, Greensboro, Greenville, Jacksonville, Minneapolis, Nashville, Portland and Richmond. The game also drew a bunch of streaming records for the WatchESPN app.
Through the first 14 matches of the tournament, ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC are averaging 4.11 million viewers, up 23 percent from this point in the 2010 World Cup, which was averaging 3.34 million at this point. The Disney networks are also posting significant increases in the 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 demographics. The 2014 World Cup has drawn ESPN and ESPN2’s four highest-rated and most-viewed group play matches not involving the United States.
I am of the opinion that soccer is here, for most people under the age of 30, maybe even 40 in this country, and on a level of at least hockey, golf, tennis, as far as sports we consider major in this country in terms of audience. I feel the United States’ ratings performance could be similar to the 2010 Olympics for hockey. You might not see the leagues (NHL for hockey, MLS/EPL/CL/etc. for soccer) turn anywhere close to the same numbers, but you’ll start to see them trend upwards and be more capable of big buzz events. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the USA-Ghana game was a massive wave.