A lot of Americans tuned in to watch Sunday’s 2014 World Cup final on ABC. ESPN’s public relations released the ratings figures for Germany’s 1-0 win in Rio. The game averaged over 17.3 million viewers … on ABC. The total number jumps closer to 26.5 million when you factor in the 9.2 million viewers on Univision and is probably much higher given the ratings system doesn’t take into account people watching in bars and or other public forums. ESPN also touted 1.8 million unique viewers on its WatchESPN app.
So all together, it’s not a bad total when you consider some of the slanted pre-World Cup polls that surfaced still clinging to the notion nobody in America cares about soccer.
As it stands, the Germany-Argentina game was the third-most watched World Cup game on ABC/ESPN, trailing only the USA-Portgual game from June (18.2 million viewers) and the 1999 Women’s World Cup final (17.9 million). The 64 games on ESPN averaged close to 4.5 million viewers. Univision’s 9.2 million viewers was a World Cup record for the network.
As Jason McIntyre wrote earlier this year, the World Cup should be analyzed — from a ratings standpoint — as an event: an event that falls during an otherwise barren portion of the sports calendar.
However you wish to frame it, a lot of people watched soccer over the last month on American television. The 2014 World Cup was a confluence of agreeable kickoff times (on the East Coast), coupled with the momentum gained by Jurgen Klinsmann’s National Team and a free-flowing, goal-a-minute group stage. It certainly helped ESPN that the semifinals included world powers Brazil, Germany, Argentina and The Netherlands. ESPN’s coverage mostly delivered, too, appealing to both newcomers and hardcore soccer fans thanks to its extensive Rio-based studio work and phalanx of international analysts.
Four years from now it will be interesting to see if the increasingly soccer-friendly American viewing public — for the World Cup at least — will tune in for much earlier kickoff times from Russia when the tournament shifts to Fox. As we know, ESPN can make almost anything it airs feel important. Four years from now, will Fox Sports 1 have that sort of power five years into its life on the cable dial? Attracting large television viewing numbers is also a lot easier, say, when a game kicks off at 6 p.m. on a Sunday rather than 7 a.m. on a weekday — another challenge Fox faces with the World Cup in Russia.
We’ll also have to wait and see how much, if at all, the World Cup helps increase eyeballs to other soccer broadcasts such as MLS. History has shown that hasn’t necessarily been the case.
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