World Cup ratings hit a 16-year high in U.S.
By Anthony Crupi and Mike Shields
NEW YORK (Mediaweek) - Even the B-flat drone of the vuvuzelas hasn't tempered America's enthusiasm for the World Cup, with ratings reaching a 16-year high as the football tournament heads into the third round of the group stage.
Through the first 14 matches of the World Cup, ESPN and ABC have delivered an average crowd of 3.35 million viewers, marking a 64% increase from the same period in 2006, when the networks drew 2.9 million fans.
The initial portion of the round-robin stage was distinguished by the much-anticipated June 12 U.S.-England tie, which drew 13 million viewers on ABC, making it the most-watched first round World Cup game in U.S. broadcast history.
Spanish-language broadcaster Univision also drew a big crowd last Saturday, serving up 4.1 million viewers with its coverage of the 1-1 Yanks-Brits match. The Group C battle stands as Univision's second most-watched U.S. World Cup match ever, trailing only the U.S.-Mexico round-of-16 showdown in 2002 (4.2 million). Through its first 17 broadcasts, Univision averaged 2.24 million viewers (data for 2006 coverage were unavailable).
If the early numbers aren't enough to convince skeptics that soccer is becoming America's fifth major sport, consider this: In 2006, 99.7 million viewers turned to ESPN, ABC and Univision for their World Cup fix. All told, the nation accounted for the eighth-largest aggregate of global World Cup viewers, up from its No. 23 ranking in 1998.
Then there's the outpouring of support for the U.S. side. When midfielder Clint Dempsey slipped a wobbler past luckless England keeper Robert Green, the rangy Texan all but ensured a solid draw for the June 18 USA-Slovenia match. "In those games the American team is in, we're going to do great numbers," said ESPN executive vp John Skipper.
And while a trip to the round of 16 would keep the ratings fires burning, Skipper said he believes viewership "will be up dramatically whether they stay in or not."
Granted, the deliveries would metastasize at an even greater rate if ESPN or Univision were credited for taproom and taqueria audiences. As neither network has made guarantees against Arbitron's unaccredited ARB-TV service, millions of fans will go uncounted. Continued...