World Cup final breaks USA TV ratings records

Philipp Lahm of Germany celebrate winning the World Cup by lifting the trophy with his team mates

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By RYAN TOLMICH

Mario Goetze’s 113th minute winner may not have broken the record for the latest goal scored in World Cup history, but Germany’s 1-0 triumph over Argentina broke new ground in terms of viewership.

Sunday’s World Cup final was the most watched men’s World Cup Final ever in terms of American viewership, as ABC’s telecast averaged 17.3 million and maxed out at 20.8 million viewers  during the German victory. Meanwhile, Univision’s Spanish broadcast of the event reportedly earned 9.2 million viewers, adding up to a total of 26.5 million between the two networks.

In addition to traditional TV broadcasts, ESPN’s internet-based WatchESPN service registered 1.8 million live unique viewers during the game, while viewers watched an average of 63 minutes of the game.

Sunday’s final was also a part of what became the highest rated World Cup on English-language TV in the United States with an average of 4.6 million viewers for each of the 64 total matches. That’s an increase of 39 percent from the 2010 World Cup and 97 percent from the 2006 World Cup viewership.

While Sunday’s final was the most viewed of its kind for ESPN and ABC, it registered as the third most-viewed soccer game in United States’ history, falling behind the U.S. Men’s National Team’s clash with Portugal in June (18.2 million viewers) as well as the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final (18 million viewers).

ESPN also announced the top 10 markets for all 64 games in the World Cup. Washington, D.C. (4.9) led, followed by New York City (4.6), San Francisco (4.4), Los Angeles (4.0), San Diego (4.0), Hartford-New Haven (3.9), Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (3.8), Orlando (3.8) and (tied) West Palm Beach, Richmond, Baltimore and Boston (3.6).

What do you think of the viewership numbers? What does it say about the sport’s growth in the U.S.?

Share your thoughts below.

This entry was posted in Featured, FIFA, FIFA World Cup, International Soccer, World Cup 2014. Bookmark the permalink.

79 Responses to World Cup final breaks USA TV ratings records

  1. Billy says:

    I believe

  2. Chris says:

    Pretty crazy the USA – Portugal game topped it! Good stuff all around though.

  3. Maury says:

    Considering all the hype that it will exceed ratings for USA-Portugal, this is quite underwhelming.

    • PleaseLeaveAReply says:

      imagine what the ratings wouldve been had USA made it to the final…100mil

    • Jim says:

      I’m not sure if there’s a metric to measure people watching socially outside of house parties (Nielson does account for those, which is why the Super Bowl gets such insane ratings). My guess is those numbers would completely shatter anything we’ve seen before. Every bar that was showing the game in my city (Jersey City, NJ) was packed solid. Every one. FAR more so than the 2010 final.

      Perhaps all the media coverage of fans coming together to watch the US inspired people to seek out that kind of atmosphere for the final.

      • Mark Williamson says:

        Jim I totally agree, when you look at Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Baltimore, Kansas City, just to name a few, that held large gatherings to watch the game on big screen, I would not venture a guess, with people saying how did you come up with those numbers. But the fact is, if you saw these crowds in the papers and on the news you would have to imagine that the viewership was far beyond any prior soccer game televised in the U.S..

  4. JayAre says:

    Nice to hear. Too bad Fox has the WC rights through 2022.

    • Increase0 says:

      True ESPN did a great job. Lalas is annoying but he serves his purpose well and is rather self aware about it.

      The Men in Blazers were hilarious too.

    • Landy Cakes says:

      no only 2018.

      • BulletTooth_Tony says:

        Fox has all US English World Cup broadcast rights from 2015-2022. Women’s World Cup kicks it off next year. So they’ll have 2015, 2019 women’s World Cup. 2017 and 2021 Confederations Cup. 2018 and 2022 men’s World Cup. And all under-20 and under-17 World Cup matches during this time.

  5. bostonredsoccer says:

    I guess I’m not following the numbers.

    Total average viewership for the final game in 2014: 26,524,000

    US/Portugal this year: 18,220,000

    WWC Final in 1999: 17,975,000

    Are these by % of viewers or something else, because the top number seems bigger.

    The NY Times says that 24.7 million viewers watched US/Portugal across the 2 networks.

    • Jake says:

      26.5 was the combined #s. The other numbers you are quoting are ESPN or ABC only, not Spanish language.

      • Jesse says:

        yes the difference is English only vs. Spanish and English combined. I know Neilsen is a joke though. They have no idea that there were 40 people at my house all watching.

      • BostonRed says:

        It’s really confusing because it’s an “apples & oranges” comparison. Other outlets are saying that Sunday’s game was the most watched in US history.

  6. beto says:

    Americans want to watch team USA!

    the final is like the superbowl; you watch it to see the final but the highest rated game is the last big game your team was in. not surprised.

    if Wondo had scored that sitter; we would have had a quarter final with Argentina on July 5th <– would have shattered the records for all televised sporting events ever.

    • Jake says:

      True about July 5, but the weekend Portugal game beat out the weekday (and earlier) Belgium game. Put that game on a weekend evening and it would have beaten the Portugal game too.

    • JayAre says:

      If we won our group and played France on the 4th of July that would have been a bigger ratings pull. This also helps put to rest some of the notion that American’s only care about foreign soccer. If the quality is good people will flock.

    • Jack says:

      Whats sad is no matter how far we go in 2018, the numbers won’t touch what could have been for that Argentina match. It’s going to be matches at 3 a.m making it mostly just the die hard fans. I very much doubt we see the stadiums and bars full of people in 4 years. That’s why ESPN didn’t care that Fox took it.

      • RAMONE says:

        It is in the middle of the night for someone, always. Yes, the causal sports fan (in any country) isn’t going to kill themselves to get up and watch a live sporting event.

        That said, with the way streaming video, DVRs, etc. etc. etc. are going, how we consume content (even live sports) may drastically change by 2018. Ratings ultimately are for the advertisers to see how many eyeballs they reached (and networks/content providers to set prices for advertising and know how they are doing).

        Yes, the die-hards will get up at 2AM and go out to bars or town squares (just like always and just like I did in 1998 and 2002 and 2006 and 2010), but I really wonder if 4 and 8 years from now if live TV will have the same pull for the others who are interested but not committed, who are willing to get up in the AM and stream the game as they get ready … and in which case, if that is in large numbers, TV based Neilsen ratings will be fairly useless.

      • brent says:

        In 2018 the games will in in Russia and the times will work pretty good for the US I think. I’m gonna work this out. There is an 11 hour difference between Moscow and Los Angeles. So if the first game starts at 1pm in Moscow that would be 2am on the west coast and 5 am on the east coast. The 4pm game in Moscow is 5 am on the west coast and 8am on the east coast. The 7pm game in Moscow is 8 am on the west and 11 am on the east. Jack was right I guess. Bummer, I thought it would be later. It could be worse though. Hopefully the US will have the later games. Early morning games are ok, just go in late to work. I live in Germany so it will work out ok.

      • Kelso says:

        They arrange the schedule with Europe in mind. I bet games will kick off at 4, 7, and 10 in Europe or something close to that. I doubt there will be any 3 am kickoffs at least for the east coast

  7. MLS to El Paso tx says:

    MLS is the next NFL love it or hated America :) mls will have crazy atmosphere but espn and fs1.will kill our soccer

    • Ian says:

      Wait, what? “MLS will be the next NFL … but espn and fs1 will kill our soccer.” Utter nonsense, once again.

    • Eddie says:

      Stop with the delusional desire. It want happen for another 50 years or more. We’ll all be dead, if it every happens. It want happen it our life time.

      • texas soccer says:

        we need mls2 or an mls network. soccer is the best stock in the world.

      • RNG says:

        I believe…

        I believe it will happen…

        And certainly before you learn to proofread.

      • JayAre says:

        50 years is way to long. This is the history of the NFL salary cap since 1994 link to en.wikipedia.org . The NFL has also built 24 new stadiums since that time. Everything from ratings to attendance has increased since then. This new TV deal is a start but I’m pretty sure that might double after 2022 and I’m sure there were probably some escalators or op-out in the contract if the league met certain rating numbers. Man Utd is getting £75 million a year for 10 years from Adidas thats $128 million. The MLS deal with Adidas is over in 2018 and is only worth $25 million annually so with the addition of new teams in big markets like NYC proper Orlando and ATL I suspect there will be a big bidding war over that too. Progress is a slow process and i understand what MLS is doing by getting teams in these stategic markets. That why places like Miami have to happen and ATL and NY are welcomed even without a proper stadium. The value of those cities when negotianting sponsor can’t be underestimated. I can see MLS with a cap close to $30 – $40 million by 2020 probably more depending on how things go in the next CBA.

        • User222 says:

          the Miami franchise is looking bleak…

          Can US Soccer Federation send a message and not schedule USMNT games near Miami as punishment to the City for opposing a new MLS team?

          MLS growth can only benefit the USMNT. If FIFA ever awards the US hosting a world cup, then USSF should avoid the City of Miami completely.

        • Paul says:

          I like your optimism but to expect the MLS cap to go from $3 million to $40 million in 6 years is a bit ambitious. I expect it to go up to $5/6 million next year after the new collective bargaining agreement, but ratings will have to drastically improve to hit 40 million (I think 10 million is realistic for strong, positive growth). Keep in mind that hockey has a cap of $60 and their ratings (2-3.5 million/game for the season) are MUCH MUCH better than MLS (181K on ESPN2, 104K on NBC, 223K Unimas for the season). Keep in mind NHL has a lot more games to share and charge. 2-3.5million is not a lot compared to NFL, but it is still 10 times what MLS pulls.

          Attendance does not matter as much because the real money comes in TV advertising and MLS tickets are ridiculous cheaper than hockey tickets.

        • Ali Dia says:

          JayAre– Great post and love the analysis. I would also say probably a bit optimistic (nothing wrong with that of course), because of the dilution that MLS faces in the soccer market.

          If an American football fan spends 5 hours of his Sunday watching football every week during the season, this is great news for the NFL– they capture all of this (unless the poor b@stard is watching the CFL or Arena ball) and it is monetized through the sale of advertisement

          If the American soccer fan spends 5 hours of his Sunday watching soccer, it is possible he didn’t watch any MLS at all, or that he spread his viewing across a few morning EPL/La LIga games, and caught the Game of the Week at night.

          The problem is that most people really can’t increase their aggregate consumption level (i.e. hours spent watching televised sports) to a much higher level than it already is. A few people will simply spend 2 more hours on the couch, but the majority will have to readjust their schedule, at the expense of their NFL consumption, or their EPL consumption or whatever it may be — They have to transfer time from some other product. This is a challenge compared to what the NFL did… they didn’t have much competition for the attention at the time.

          So you have a dilemma. Is it better to tell a “new” soccer fan –who loved the World Cup and wants to learn more– to focus on the Champions League or top UEFA leagues, so that they can see the same player playing the highest caliber soccer? Or do you sell them on MLS and the domestic opportunity?

          Probably they’ll find their own preference, but the monetary benefit is more iindirect if the individual is consuming “soccer” as opposed to “MLS”. Sooner or later, MLS is going to have to displace some of the hours “owned” by competing products, and this will take time. Those are good mature leagues with massive budgets and a mandate to grow here, as well.

  8. Abe says:

    Still bitter at Wondo. Still bitter.

    • Ian says:

      Unfortunately, I expected nothing more than that from Wondo. He’s good at MLS, but really poor at the international level. It was just as true before the WC as it is after.

      • danny says:

        Did you see Higuain’s horrible miss in the final? It happens to top strikers as well. I bet you Wondo finishes that one, but Higuain would have finished Wondo’s.

    • Jesse says:

      He was on fire in practice though “everything he touched, turned to gold”. So he has that going for him.

  9. Mike R says:

    It’s great that people tuned in…but most will not pay attention to soccer I until USA wc 2018.
    These are the same people who tune in for Olympic volleyball, swimming and gymnastic and then don’t pay attention to those sports ever. The style of play and quality in MLS doest help either. If the World Cup is the Majors MLS is A minors. Maybe more Americans in the premiership or liga would help.

    • Yun Xia says:

      Actually 2016 Copa America where US will be the host should draw big ratings as well.

    • Jesse says:

      It is many of those same people, but it is also a big chunk the same people watching the super bowl. Sure they only catch one or two regular season games, only kind of care about their local team. That is okay though, that plus some passionate fans in each city drives the multi-billion dollar per year NFL.

      Beach volleyball, swimming and gymnastics are secondary sports in every country in the world. Soccer is different, it has a proven track record of being a high revenue, high interest sport. Americans eyes are not different than any other countries, we can learn to enjoy this sport, just as we’ve have been taught to enjoy baseball.

      I believe MLS will surpass the NHL by the end of the decade, and will be considered one of the big 4 sports in the US within the next 20 years. It won’t catch the NFL, NBA or MLB anytime soon but it will close the gap.

      • Clyde Frog says:

        Actually I read once that half the people who ‘watch’ the Super Bowl see no other football game all year. May or may not be completely accurate, but I doubt it’s that far off.

        • Tom says:

          Certainly true of me–wrt pro football.

          • Tony in Quakeland says:

            Ditto. And I used to watch a lot of NFL. Now it bores me senseless.

            • User222 says:

              +1…. after 30 years of watching the big 3 sports I’m down just to soccer…

              I thought I was the only one being bored with the NFL.

              • RAMONE says:

                Yep. I still like college football (but even that has become tiresome the last few years) because of the variety in strategies.

                The SuperBowl is the only NFL game I see and usually only every 2nd or 3rd year.

                Have not been to an NFL game in 20 years.

      • Tom says:

        I think that prediction is reasonable.

      • Mike R says:

        I think it’s possible. If the MLS can stop focusing on expansion and focus on quality. The style of play needs to change also get rid of the direct hack a man and a style like say Argentina, physical YET technical could work. Or a MFL style would be ok if you add running ( they walk with the ball too much).

        If the MLS was Premiership, Liga quality etc, I think only NFL would surpass it. I don’t think quality like Argentjna league is too far fetched if we could get to there physical, technical with style then yes I think it an pass nhl if we could show inner city youths that it’s a viable option to basketball that would go a long ways also. Damn that DR Naismith

      • Paul says:

        I don’t believe how far behind MLS is. I hope it continues to grow and I think it will,but keep this is mind. Keep in mind that hockey ratings (2-3.5 million/game for the 2013-14 season) are MUCH MUCH better than MLS (181K on ESPN2, 104K on NBC, 223K Unimas for the 2013 season). Keep in mind NHL has a lot more games to share and charge the networks. 2-3.5 million is not a lot compared to NFL, but it is still 10 times what MLS pulls.

        Most World Cup are like most SuperBowl and Olumpics fans in that they only watch those events. Most of my friends are like that.

        link to tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com

        link to tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com

  10. Ivan says:

    Too bad Fox is getting the rights for the next 2 WCs.

    They better not even think about bringing the mistake of nature that is Gus Johnson as a play-by-play commentator. This will be the biggest mistake in the history of sports broadcasting.

    • Jack says:

      When I’m getting up at 3 a.m to watch it, I doubt I’ll be too worried that Gus is calling it.

      • Jack says:

        Maybe it’ll be more like 8 -10 am range, which maybe people would be willing to do.

      • Jamie says:

        Where is this 3 am coming from? It’ll be in Russia not Korea. Unless you’re on the west coast, I’m guessing the games will be 6am, 9am and noon on the east coast given the 8 hour average time difference. It might even be better like 8,11 and 2pm since FIFA always wants it in prime time in countries like England.

        • RAMONE says:

          Which is 3AM, 6AM and 9AM here on the west (or in the better yet category, 5AM, 8AM and 11AM).

          Doesn’t matter. I will watch the US games live whenever they are on.

      • Helium-3 says:

        Have you guys ever travelled to Europe? Where are you getting this idea that matches are going to be at 3 am US time??? Moscow is 8 hrs ahead of US east coast time. If games are starting 7 and 9 pm, it will be 11am and 1pm start times.

        Unless some matches are held in Vladivostock, no need to worry abt the 12hr difference.

        • RAMONE says:

          Agreed. Most if not all will be in Western Russia (they have not even totally settled on the sites yet, let alone started building stadiums?).

          The US does however span 4 time zones across the continent and Alaska/Hawaii are 5-6 hours behind the East Coast. Pacific Time is 11 hours behind Moscow (7PM Moscow is 8AM Pacific). Alaska-Hawaii is 14 hours behind (7PM Moscow is 5AM in Honolulu). Those are not terrible if everything starts at 7PM or after in Moscow, but lets not forget that the US is not all Eastern time zone.

        • Jack says:

          I was assuming based on this World Cup where the knock out rounds were at 1 and 4 pm. If the match were in Moscow that would be 5 am ET and 2 am on the west coast.

          2006 the matches were held later at 5 and 9 so you are probably right.

          • Paul says:

            The games were at those times because of the European markets. Expect the relative start times to be about 2/3 hours earlier. Earliest knock-out games starting at roughly 9am EST

  11. Bill says:

    I found an interesting contrast between 2010 and 2014 as far as interest and viewership. I work for an electric utility and with mostly blue-collar lineman. These are guys who are die-hard Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins fans couldn’t have cared less for the 2010 edition of the WC. Some were openly disdainful of soccer – spouting the same tired arguments about soccer that I’ve had to listen to for the last 40 years. However, this time around they were watching and interested; and not just the games that the US was in. Of course they loved the US-Ghana game, several saying to me “What an awesome game it was”, or “What a comeback” and they were massively disappointed in the Portugal tie. What really surprised me was that several watched other games and talked about them, especially the Spain-Netherlands and the Germany-Brazil games. These are the people we have to reach for soccer to be a success in this country – the average American sports fan. It has been happening slowly, but I think with this past WC, we are seeing a sea-change in attitudes.

    • CSD says:

      I talked to a coworker today that watched the final yesterday and wanted to talk about it. He never talked to me about soccer until this World Cup he wasn’t aware we had a domestic league until I told him today. He is now excited about soccer and said he is going to start trying to watch it.

        • Brian Hall says:

          I had the same experience, I’m a mid level executive at 7-11 and I got other white coller/ hipster friends who like soccer but I was shocked when the Frito Lay delivery guy started talking about Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard. And 20 year old female cashiers were checking their smart phones for scores. MLS and Champions League still might be niche but World Cup certainly captured the attention of almost everyone under the age of 50.

          • QuakerOtis says:

            I’m doing my best to pimp out the upcoming EPL and CL season to new fans. I’m a huge MLS fan, but… Still nervous about talking up soccer and then introducing people to that product. Maybe in a few years.

            • Tom says:

              You know, I can understand that. Sometimes it isn’t the greatest ;)

              OTOH, get them to a game in a decent crowd–and that will go out the window.post haste. I’ve been to a few DCU games and it was a) totally fun and b) cheeeep compared to hand-egg or basketball. Only baseball could really compare, but baseball can be such a drag.

              Get someone to a game or two with a reasonable crowd and I bet they’d tune in even for the clunkers ;)

      • QuakerOtis says:

        Nice. Well done.

      • CSD says:

        I am in the Southeast and there are a good bit of people in the Southeast that have not had much exposure to professional soccer. I know significantly more people that are just not familiar with soccer than are what you would consider anti-soccer. With teams moving into the region in the next few years and the exposure growing I think MLS will get a good bit of new fans in the Southeast.

    • MLS_Soccer_Talker says:

      Good work Bill. The more fans the better. You must be from Dallas.

    • Adi in Oregon says:

      Some great stories described here how the US public has turned a corner in regard to watching soccer. Because the 2014 WC was so interesting and the USMNT did so well, it seems soccer has finally captured many young US sports fans’ attention. I believe this will continue because now the US REALLY understands that soccer is a world sport with its associated international competition and great interest. The upcoming Copa America and the Womens WC, in which the US will play a major role, will continue to increase the US interest in international soccer and thus soccer generally in the US!!!.

    • Ali Dia says:

      Excellent story Bill. Thanks for sharing.– this resonates with several unexpected experiences I had and it sounds like others feel the same.

      The adoption curve for soccer amongst Americans is an incredibly complicated discussion, there are so many “products” a person can consume… Exactly what does a “hardcore soccer person” really look like here? MLS season tickets? Geek who never misses an EPL or CL game? Parent with two teenage kids playing year-round at the club level? American Outlaws member? What about the Mexican American immigrant who despises MLS and the USMNT, but coaches three youth teams and lives for the game? He is a stakeholder too. There are all kinds of combinations and subsets,,, it’s a challenging market to segment.and I’m not sure that there is a definitive answer or “best strategy”.

      But your observation really hits on an important thing that is happening. After decades of frustrating entrenchment, the “Americans will never care about soccer” argument is at last evaporating. Baffling though its origins may be, few would dispute actually been a significant “negative lobby” facing soccer, perpetuated rather willingly by a media who seemed like they just didn’t feel like “learning soccer”.

      But I’m now confident for the first time that the corner has been turned. Not every NFL or NBA fan will become a soccer geek or even a fan… but they won’t be needlessly bashing the game as a reflex. Ridding the casual sports media of this attitude was an absolute prerequisite for greater long-term penetration. Great to see.

  12. USAmr says:

    I think we will see boosts in viewing of MLS and EPL among other leagues. What I’m really hoping for, and I believe it will happen, is a boost in live support of USMNT home games. With friendlies, 2015 Gold Cup, the start of qualification, 2016 Copa America and Olympics, and other WNT and yourth games, there is a lot of opportunity to support our teams. I’m hopeful we will see an increased level of support!
    I believe….

    • Jamie says:

      Bold prediction…the 2016 Copa America will rival the tv numbers of this year’s World Cup. I’m stunned that a network hasn’t been assigned to this yet. Think of the possibilities and stories just based on the performances in this year’s World Cup of the participating nations. And it’s in the US.

      • Ali Dia says:

        The likely reason a TV partner has not been selected is that FIFA has not signed off on the tournament yet. Without this approval, clubs will not be required to release players and the tournament would be significantly diffirent event, if it even still took place.

        The rights will likely be bid once this has been secured (though there is reason to believe this is not a rubber stamp for Blatter). Depending on what you read, rumor has it that Fox is in the pole position for the English language broadcast rights (they own 2015 Gold Cup and 2018 World Cup already) with competition from beIn Sport likely. ESPN is probably out, given they will be doing the Euro concurrently.

        You’re right about the potential. Some has previously suggested this would be a “B” tournament for most CONMEBOL teams. It may still, but WC results may have an impact. Any team Brazil sends, for example, should not expect much sympathy for coming back empty-handed. Whether or not this is the kind of event a guy like Messi comes in for remains to be seen.

  13. alex says:

    thats awesome , i cant wait till the day the us go to the finals , can you imagine , can you imagine , i can since being italian native i ve been through two italian wins …. glad soccer is uphill , will take a while for it to becomes our major sport , its inevitable one day it will

  14. Twomilerule says:

    Day to day knowledgable media is key to raising the overall futbol/soccer IQ. With the networks finding value in the sports growth and projecting further growth in MLS. Networks like ESPN and ESPN radio need more knowledgable gringo type personalities who really understand and appreciate the passion for the sport. To often the personalities on ESPN especially the radio side are taking on the persona of,”oh I always liked soccer growing up!” When the reality is the network is telling them to pump soccer because they have the rights to broadcast it.
    Local print media needs to pick up weekly scores and reporting on MLS, USMNT, Euro matches. Exposure with content raises the interest and most of all the overall knowledge of the game. In general a majority of people need to be told what to like and dislike. Too often the media has told the US audience soccer is not American and worthy of your free time or disposable income. The brilliance of the game is finally winning over the status quo

  15. 1. Increased awareness of the excellent play brought more viewers.
    2. The World Cup’s combo of global competition, national pride, and individual interest draws and keeps fans.
    3. My son is a committed soccer player, therefore anything that increases the sport’s valuation gets my support.
    4. Many women enjoy soccer and that makes it more enjoyable, and less stressful, for the family.

  16. Steve Frank says:

    This was a big deal, the majority of people I know watched it with friends or in bars.

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