Prior to the 2010 World Cup, it could have been argued that the beautiful game had already surpassed hockey as the fourth most popular sport in the United States. ESPN (who is covering the tournament in South Africa) shares broadcasting rights for Major League Soccer, yet no longer broadcasts the NHL.
Team USA’s opening match against England also outdrew the first four games of the NBA finals—which featured legendary rivals Lakers and Celtics—with 17.1 million total viewers.
The Yanks' Round of 16 match with Ghana then topped that to become the most watched soccer match in U.S. history with 19.4 million viewers, just shy of the 21 million who tuned in for the game seven of the NBA Finals.
After a number of false starts over the past several decades, it looks as though soccer in America is finally here to stay.
ESPN Executive Vice President John Skipper (pictured) recently admitted that his network has spent more money on the World Cup than any other sporting event it has ever covered.
This is significant in and of itself, considering that ESPN covers the NBA, NFL, MLB, PGA’s Masters Tournament, and more college sports than you can shake a stick at.
Taking both English and Spanish language telecasts into account, the 2010 World Cup has reached over 34 percent of all TV viewers in the United States, according to the Nielsen Company.
A total of 99.2 million U.S. viewers have watched at least six minutes of World Cup action through the Round of 16, which already represents a jump in the same measurement from the 91.4 million who watched at least some of the matches during the entire 2006 World Cup.
With the numbers from the quarters, semis, and final matches, this number is certain to top 100 million by the time the 2010 World Cup is over.
The Hispanic population has contributed to soccer’s rise in America.
Granted, not all of them are citizens, but many of them are. At any rate, they all live, work, and watch TV in the United States, so the influence is still significant.
Hispanic viewership for this year’s tournament is also up 29 percent from 2006, with 9.3 million viewers tuning in for the quarter-final match between Mexico and Argentina, the most watched program in Spanish language history.
And it wasn’t just the Spanish-speaking population that tuned in for Mexico and Argentina; six million Americans also caught the match on ABC, bringing total viewership for both broadcasts to 15.4 million.
It was also the number one program of the week—regardless of language—in Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, and Dallas among total viewers (P2+), Adults 18-49, Adults 18-34, and Persons 12-34.
The technological revolution has officially arrived!
Per MediaWeek.com, out-of-home viewing has given ESPN and ABC a 47 percent boost over their linear TV deliveries. This includes ESPN Mobile TV, on which yours truly has utilized to watch most of the games so far during the day when I’m at the office.
I access it via Sprint TV on my Blackberry. If you have a smart phone and a carrier other than Sprint, try texting "GOAL" to 43776 to sign up.
According to an analysis of Knowledge Networks data, internet platforms like ESPN3.com (which streams matches live) have also lifted ESPN/ABC’s reach by 20 percent over vanilla TV numbers.
Univision.com has been streaming live matches as well.
“The record viewership proves that soccer is as popular as it’s ever been in the United States,” said Stephen Master, VP of Sports at The Nielsen Company.
Both ESPN and Univision have the rights to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as well, making for much friendlier U.S. time slots next time around. Brazil is only one hour ahead of New York, which means most of the 2014 matches will air during prime time hours versus primarily morning broadcasts for this year’s competition.
It’s also worth noting that broadcast rights cost ESPN $100 million while Univision paid more than three times that amount ($325 million) for the same coverage.
Another interesting fact: the median age range for the World Cup television viewers is 39, significantly lower than the median age of 52 for the Olympics.
Coupled with the figures for new media (i.e. internet and mobile TV), which seems to imply it’s the younger generation that appears to be embracing the beautiful game—good news for U.S. Soccer.