Final Verdict – World Cup Soccer TV Ratings

The tally is in, and, as The Beverage predicted a few weeks back, the World Cup final game last weekend between Spain and the Netherlands was the most watched televised soccer game in U.S. history. The game drew more than 25 million viewers between ABC and Univision, far-and-away besting the previous high of around 18 million who saw the U.S. women beat China in the 1999 World Cup final on home soil.

That is still a few million viewers short of the audience that saw the historic Game 7 of the NBA Finals a few weeks back, but remember that was the most watched NBA game in a generation. The World Cup final had a larger television audience than every single other NBA basketball game played in this century, including all-star games. Speaking of all-star games, fewer than half as many viewers watched the MLB all-star game on Tuesday night, the lowest ever for the event once commonly referred to as the “Mid-Summer Classic.” World Cup is that much more popular than the baseball all-star game? Really?

It is probably even more dramatic than it seems. In comparing both the NBA and MLB events to the World Cup ratings, it is critical to note that the soccer game was played on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of July, while the others were in prime time on weeknights. There’s a reason why they call it “prime time” and why the major pro sports leagues in the TV era schedule their important events to fall on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays instead of Sunday afternoon. With the exception of golf fanatics, most people don’t watch TV on Sunday afternoons, especially in July. I remember Sunday afternoons from my youth without cable as the “Grizzly Adams-zone,” devoid of anything whatsoever worth watching. If the World Cup final had been on a Tuesday night at 9 EDT, I dare say it would have exceeded the total number of viewers posted by the NBA Finals Game 7.

That result is dramatic enough to prompt some to jump to conspiracy theories. Our local sports talk radio curmudgeon declared that it was simply impossible for a Sunday afternoon soccer game to have drawn that many viewers, and thus it must be the result of a conspiracy (amongst whom was not clear) designed to inflate the apparent interest in soccer here in support of a bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. He wasn’t kidding, and I’m not making this up.

Unless you believe that wackadoo stuff, the truth is that the World Cup brand of soccer, at least, is a successful television property in the U.S., and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. ESPN doubled down on their investment this time around, and you can only expect that they will redouble when the next World Cup in Brazil falls in much more friendly time slots. The haters had better get used to it, because – whether as the result of a clever pointy-headed intellectual paternalistic conspiracy or not – international soccer has captured a part of the American sports consciousness. “Nobody really watches soccer” guy will sound even more confused and isolated next time around.

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4 Responses to “Final Verdict – World Cup Soccer TV Ratings”


  1. 1 Better halfandhalf July 18, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    ABC & ESPN are part of a huge, publicly-traded company. Inflated ratings (done purposefully or with a turned eye) would be criminal. I vote “you’ve got to be kidding me” on the conspiracy theory.

  2. 2 The Beverage July 18, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    I agree, but it wasn’t clear that ABC was supposed to be in on the conspiracy. Might have been just USA Soccer and Nielsen.

  3. 3 Gary the Bartender July 19, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Where, excatly, is there money to be made in anti-soccer rhetoric. In other words, do “nobody really watches soccer” rants actually rate?

  4. 4 The Beverage July 19, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Great question. Hadn’t really thought about it, but I think the answer is, “somewheres yes.”

    If you look at the World Cup ratings city by city, it is basically Obama voters watching. San Diego and New Jersey are heavily represented. San Francisco turns out large.

    I heard a rant the other day on our local sports talk about how nobody really likes sushi; they’re just eating eat to try and look cool. This stuff plays here.


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