As we head into the knockout stages of UEFA Euro 2020 on Saturday, ESPN is seeing strong audiences for the tournament through the group stage.

On Friday, ESPN announced that viewership for the 36 group stage matches was up 23% from the 2016 tournament. This year’s matches averaged 869,000 viewers, compared to 707,000 viewers five years ago.

One big reason for the increase has been the placement of some matches on ABC. During Euro 2016, zero group stage matches aired on ABC, compared to two this year. One fewer match (seven in 2016, six this month) has also aired on ESPN2.

The decision has worked out. Both ABC matches (Spain-Poland and Belgium-Russia) cracked the 1.3 million viewer mark, ranking as the fourth and fifth most-watched group stages matches this tournament. The three most-watched matches in this year’s group stage all aired on ESPN, and two involved the reigning World Champions. France’s match with defending Euro champion Portugal on June 19th drew a stunning 1.826 million viewers, while the France-Germany clash on June 15th attracted 1.545 million viewers. England also made an appearance in the top five, with the Three Lions’ dour draw with Scotland on June 18th picking up 1.539 million viewers.

Also of note: each of those top five matches outdrew every group stage match from 2016.

The knockout stages begin with the Round of 16 on Saturday. Wales takes on Denmark at 12 PM ET on ESPN, which will be followed up with Italy-Austria at 3 PM ET on ABC. On Sunday, the Netherlands and Czech Republic will battle at 12 PM ET on ESPN, while Belgium faces off with Portugal in a potential classic at 3 PM ET on ABC.

I’ll admit to being surprised at the strong viewership for Euro, if only because of the burnout that I (along with many others in my sphere) am experiencing after a long grind of club soccer over the last year. But once Euro started, I fell right back into the rhythm, and have watched what seems like at least one match per day. Nielsen integrating out of home viewers into its data over the last year has probably also helped, along with COVID restrictions lifting and people flocking back to bars to watch sports.


About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.