World Cup keeps scoring on TV

The United States’ 2-1 loss to Ghana on Saturday was the most-watched soccer game ever broadcast in this country, according to data released by The Nielsen Company (including viewers from ABC and Univision broadcasts).

An estimated 19.4 million viewers watched the match (14.9 million of those on ABC). How does that compare with other sports events? Well, the U.S. Open golf final round, played in prime time at Pebble Beach the Sunday before, drew 9.3 million viewers on NBC.

How does the World Cup rating stack up against other sports events? First, it doesn’t compare with big NFL games. Nothing in this country compares with the NFL. It dwarfs everything.

So let us again state — in the U.S., NFL is king.

I’d say the World Cup is something like the Olympics. It captures people for a time, but there’s no way to say whether that gives any staying power to the sport as a TV phenomenon. Soccer has slowly but steadily climbed as a TV franchise. It’s not going to threaten American football, but these numbers the World Cup has put up are clearly evidence that there is a growing audience for at least this event.

The problem soccer has is that most of its hard-core fans are more interested in the elite leagues in Europe than they are in American pro soccer, which leaves the sport only so many places it can go as a TV entity in the U.S.

Still, consider that the 19.4 million who watched a fourth-round World Cup game were

  • More than watched The NBA Finals games 2, 3, 5 and 6
  • More than watched either NCAA men’s basketball national semifinal (14.5 million Butler-Michigan State, 15.8 million Duke-WVU)
  • More than watched every college football bowl game except the Rose and BCS title games
  • More than watched the final round of the Masters (16.7 million)
  • More than watched the Kentucky Derby (16.5 million).


It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the World Cup fares now that the U.S. is gone.


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