USA - Portugal: 22.9 Million Viewers on ESPN, Total Number Rivals BCS Championship Game Audience

By Jason McIntyre

The TV viewership for USA 2, Portugal 2 was predictably astronomical: ESPN says the match averaged 18.2 million viewers, and topped out at 22.9 in the final 30 minutes of the match. The average rating was a 9.6, but peaked at 11.9 over the final half hour.

ESPN is touting this as the “most viewed soccer match ever in the United States,” and when you toss in the 6.5 million viewers on Univision, you’re looking at the average numbers of viewers in the ballpark of 24.7 million. For a World Cup group match. At 6 pm, on a Sunday in late June. Not bad. If you want to toss in the web numbers from ESPN and Univision, you’ve got another 1.9 million for a whopping 26.6 million total.

The audience is also being touted as the “most watched non-football sporting event in cable TV history.”

[Aside: Before we delve too much deeper, you should know that the way TV ratings are compiled is laughable. It’s an ancient process and barely representative of the millions of people watching. Have you ever been contacted by Nielsen? I have not, and I have asked dozens of friends over the years and nobody I know has. Even the PR reps at the major networks shake their heads at the archaic process. So why is Nielsen still being used? Because nobody has come up with a better one.]

As I wrote last week, it’s silly to try and make sweeping proclamations about soccer based on boffo World Cup ratings; the sport is still on the rise in the US and the MLS still remains relatively young compared to the most established MLB/NBA/NFL.

What will propel soccer to new heights in the coming decades is the Browning of America. Generation Y has been called the most “racially diverse population” in the history of the country. We’ve already seen how political parties have had to adjust to the country’s shifting ethnic landscape, and eventually, this will impact sports. The NBA has a massive audience in Asia. MLB has many rising stars from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. The NFL, for some reason, wants to reach out to London. MLS has embraced the growing Hispanic/Latino audience. These payoffs will be most evident in 10-20 years.

[Bold prediction: IF the US meets Argentina in the quarterfinals on July 5 at noon, I think we’ll see a combined TV audience of 30 million. I’d go higher if it wasn’t a holiday weekend and the game was at a night. But for this dream matchup to happen against the best player in the world, first the US has to get out of the group, and then defeat Belgium or Russia. A boy can dream.]

If you’re the type that feels like comparing World Cup games to large sporting events, because you need a point of reference … here are a few:

* Auburn-Florida State tied for the fourth-lowest BCS championship ever with a final 14.4 rating and 25.6 million viewers (via)
* LSU-Alabama regular season game: 9-6 defensive-dominated game: 18 million viewers (via)
* Green Bay 20, San Francisco 23, in a January 2014 playoff game: 47 million viewers (via)
* Denver 8, Seattle 43, the lopsided 2014 Super Bowl, drew 111.5 million viewers (via)

Related: USA vs. Germany: What The U.S. Needs To Advance After 2-2 Portugal Draw
Related: USA vs. Portugal Aftermath Shows U.S. Has Become a “Soccer Nation”
Related: The Most Depressing Photo From Near the End of USA 2, Portugal 2