World Cup TV Ratings Surge: US-Ghana Draws Record 11 Million on ESPN


Here’s my weekly CineSport video. We’re talking about soccer!

US 2, Ghana 1 was a TV ratings juggernaut despite starting at 6 pm on a Monday afternoon. It had everything – a goal by the US in the first :29. Anyone who wasn’t watching, or hadn’t planning on watching, might have tuned in when they heard that shocker. The remainder of the game was tense as the US desperately tried to hold the lead. If you got home from work around 7:30 and switched it on, you were treated to an exciting final 10 minutes: Ghana scored, and then the US answered on a John Brooks header with four minutes left for the 2-1 victory.

The drama drew eyeballs: ESPN says it was the most-watched soccer game in the network’s history – 11 million viewers. That’s great context, but it doesn’t begin to capture the game’s true audience. The Watch ESPN app had another 1.4 million views. And another 4.8 million people watched on Univision.

Still, many more watched. You’ve seen the crowded bars or viewing parties. Also unaccounted for – the numerous folks who worked all day, DVR’d the game, and then avoided social media, turned off their phones, and watched it unfold later at night.

ottom line: The game was a rousing success, and Sunday’s 6 pm match against Portugal – which features the 2nd best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo – will be even bigger. It’s must-win for Portugal, and a victory means the US will advance, and possibly even steal the “Group of Death” from mighty Germany.

If you feel compelled to compare the match’s TV ratings to another sport, don’t pick the Stanley Cup Finals. Don’t cherry pick Jets/Giants NFL ratings. Don’t pick the World Series. (I’ve watched more World Cup in five days than I’ll watch MLB all season.) Don’t pick the NBA Finals. The Spurs romp over Miami wasn’t competitive for the final three games, and more importantly, it was the Heat’s 102nd game since October. Those are all games; the World Cup is an event. Surely some people avoided the NBA Finals because they dislike LeBron and the Heat or find the Spurs “boring.” If you have little or no interest in hockey, it is unlikely that you’re going to tune in.

The US National soccer team? Drape a flag around your shoulders, pop a cold one, and root for the underdog Americans even if you don’t know the players or the rules.

It’s tough to compare any sporting event to the World Cup, except perhaps the Olympics. (I haven’t watched hockey in years; I’ll tune in to some Olympic hockey.)  So when 20 million people tune in to US/Portugal, and it spawns the inevitable, “is soccer ready to take off in America?” chatter, just take a deep breath and realize the MLS was founded in 1993. In December, it’ll reach the drinking age.

By comparison, MLB’s National League formed in 1876. The NBA was founded in 1946. The NFL dates back to 1920. Soccer is the world’s sport; it’s been picking up steam in the US for years, and will continue to do so.