PORTLAND, Ore. (MainStreet) The World Cup is over, but there's a lot more for soccer's newest converts to watch even after the world's teams left Brazil.
ESPN averaged 3.54 million viewers through the group stage 2014 World Cup in Brazil, up 46% from the 2010 World Cup and more than double the audience for the early rounds in 2006. Univision, meanwhile, averaged a network-best 2.9 million viewers for each of those same 48 matches. The U.S. men's national team averaged nearly 18.3 million viewers on ESPN and Univision combined for its three opening-round matches, with the 24.7 million audience for its match against Portugal making it the most-watched opening-round World Cup match in U.S. history. Even the U.S. loss to Belgium in the Round of 16 drew 16.5 million viewers to ESPN alone and 21.6 million to ESPN and Univision combined. Throw in ESPN and Univision's digital audiences, and that viewership soars to 28.2 million, which would be the largest viewership for soccer in U.S. television history.
ESPN, Univision and ABC have discovered their combined $425 million investment in the U.S. broadcast rights for the 2010 and 2014 World Cup paying dividends far beyond what the U.S. men's national team could produce. Until this year, the most-watched World Cup match in U.S. history was the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and The Netherlands on ABC and Univision. That combined television audience of 24.3 million was the largest in history for a U.S. soccer broadcast and overshadowed easily the 19.4 million who watched the Round of 16 matchup between the U.S. and Ghana that year the most-watched U.S. national team match to that point.
This year's numbers have only solidified the U.S. interest in international soccer regardless of which teams take the pitch. A combined 9.5 million viewers watched host nation Brazil's opening match against Croatia on ESPN and Univision, falling just short of the 12.6 million viewers who tuned in to Game 4 of the NBA Finals later that night on ABC. ESPN's opening-match viewership was 49% greater than its audience for the 2010 World Cup and a bigger crowd than any World Cup opener in the past 20 years. Univision, meanwhile drew nearly triple the amount of viewers NBC did with the early rounds of golf's U.S. Open that same day.