This past Saturday we watched the United States Men’s National Team give their full 90 on the pitch … and apparently we weren’t alone, as what some people didn’t realize is that soccer fans in America gave just as much on that faithful afternoon. The match is one that will go down in history not only as a spirited contest, but also as the most watched FIFA World Cup First Round game in American TV history.
During the two-hour match window, the ABC Sports broadcast averaged a 7.3 household rating … in the vernacular, this means that around 8,391,000 households and 12,956,000 (give or take a dozen here and there) viewers tuned in to watch Sam’s Army take on the Three Lions. On top of the numbers posted by ABC, 3.8 million more viewers watched the Spanish-language broadcast on Univision … not a bad performance for a country where football is typically played with hands and a helmet.
You may however be surprised to learn that, while the hype proceeding it was unparalleled, Saturday’s match was only the fifth highest ranked World Cup telecast in U.S. history. Spots 2 through 4 are occupied by two World Cup Finals and the USA’s Round of 16 mega-match against Brazil in 1994. What does this leave for the top spot then? Nine out of ten football junkies in the states are probably thinking back to the USA-Mexico battle of the border in the 2002 round of 16 … and although it was a great game, and a good win for the boys in Red, White & Blue (2-0, anybody?), it didn’t make the cut. The number one most watched game in our nation’s history was … the 99’ Women’s World Cup Final, when over 18 million Americas watch the USA women triumph over China at the Rose Bowl. Yup, had us fooled too!
If you don’t believe us, here’s the numbers … including the Salt Lake City demo area ranking in at #5 across the country when it comes to Saturday’s metered markets (way to be, SLC!):
Top 5 Most-Viewed FIFA World Cup Telecasts (1994-present):
U.S.-China, Women’s WC Final (ABC, 7/10/99) – 18.0 million viewers (11.4 rating)
Brazil-Italy, WC Final (ABC, 7/17/94) – 14.5 (9.5 rating)
Brazil-U.S., Rd of 16 (ABC, 7/4/94) – 13.7 (9.3 rating)
Italy-France, WC Final (ABC, 7/9/06) – 12.0 (7.0 rating)
U.S.-England, First Rd (ABC, 6/12/10) – 10.8 (6.1 rating) *
* includes pre-match coverage
Top 5 Metered Markets (U.S.-England):
San Diego – 11.5 rating
San Francisco – 11.2
Las Vegas – 11.0
Cincinnati – 10.8
Salt Lake City – 10.2
As American soccer fans we have grown accustom to the poor broadcasts, sub-par coverage, and time spent waiting for announcers to explain the offside rule ten times a match … however it appears that the masses have adopted the creed of their heroes on the pitch and have made it clear to the media giants, “Don’t tread on me!” And, in part, it seems that they have listened … the broadcasts this year have a much more professional feel, the announcers are more knowledgeable (and yes, very British, but that’s alright!), and the studio breakdowns are actually starting to make sense. Major sponsors are fighting for the coveted halftime commercial slots and ESPN has integrated the Cup into almost all of its programs, despite the fact that Jim Rome is still pretending he has no idea that the United States has a soccer team.
In light of all, dare we ask the question … has soccer’s time finally come in the USA? In the Confederations Cup last summer our boys showed that they can play with any country in the world, but on Saturday our nation showed that it can love the game as much as any country in the world. During the next month while we watch the best in the world battle it out on the pitch this will no longer be the United States of America … this is the United States of Football.