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16 million Americans watch USA-Ghana match on TV, set record for ESPN

U.S. Soccer World Cup Viewing Party


Americans do love to watch soccer — as long as it’s a World Cup and the USA is playing.

The tense opening Brazil 2014 match for the U.S. Men’s National Team against storied rival Ghana turned out to be a ratings boon for ESPN, drawing just more than 11 million viewers. That’s the most ESPN has ever had for a men’s soccer match, according to Nielsen.

What’s more, Spanish-language broadcaster Univision drew 4.8 million, bringing the total television audience to 15.9 million.

For perspective, this month about 6 million watched the Los Angeles Kings beat the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup and nearly 18 million watched the San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat for the NBA title.

For ESPN’s numbers, the USA-Ghana match was beat ratings-wise by the 2011 Women’s World Cup final. Just under 13.5 million watched the U.S. Women’s National Team fall to Japan on ESPN, making it the highest-ever rated soccer match on cable television.

If the USMNT can extend their World Cup run beyond the group stage, it seems to be a sure bet that the record will be broken.

Through the opening 14 matches of the World Cup this year, ESPN averaged around 4.1 million viewers per match, an increase of 23 percent over the 2010 World Cup.

ESPN’s mobile app called WatchESPN averaged 643,000 viewers through the first 11 games of the tournament and set a record by drawing 1.4 million viewers for USA-Ghana. Univision’s online stream drew 1.7 million live streams for the match.

The top ten rated markets for viewership on ESPN were Washington D.C.; New York City; Hartford-New Haven, Conn.; Boston; Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore, Md.; Providence, R.I.; Orlando, Fla.; San Francisco; and Norfolk, Va.


What do you think of this news? Will the USMNT break the record in Brazil? Are these numbers a good sign?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. The scenes in DC were crazy. Bars were completely packed. Huge line outside the AO bar an hour before kickoff – no way to get in.

  2. I’m piggybacking everyone else that’s mentioned the watch party/bar watch thingys. If most every pub in ‘Murica is jammed for every game, that has to tack on a least a few million more folks watching, right?

    • Like people have said, it is difficult to calculate a precise number on how many people actually watched the match. The figure is based partially on the area that an average upright body takes up times the square footage of a room/pub/gathering.

      In any event, the number will keep going up.

      • They might actually be better off doing traditional polling to see who watched the game. Would be an interesting comparison.

  3. I’ll never forget this quote from Howard Cossell from the 70s when he used to broadcast NASL games. “Soccer will be the biggest big league of them all.” If you look at the changing demo of the US, the fact social media and younger generations play and watch the game from EPL to La Liga to MLS, it makes more sense why people want to buy into the sport. Sure, this is World Cup and it’s every 4 years but if the team does well it may have a huge effect on MLS which is already growing at a nice pace.

  4. This is awesome news. I live in Seattle and I can tell you most everyone I know watched the match from streaming devices at work or at viewing parties. Sundays numbers are going to be off the chart.

    On another note, I am a little shocked that people on this thread are criticizing MLS’s impact on things. The league continues to grow at a great pace, clubs are getting stronger every year, and the league is putting on a solid, in some cases outstanding, showing at this cup. I am incredibly optimistic about the domestic game. It’s only going to get better from here.

  5. I wonder how these numbers are affected by the fact that many people (anecdotally, at least) watched the game in a pub or party situation as opposed to from home? I caught the match at a small pub in Delaware that was literally shoulder to shoudler the entire 90+ and heard a similar story from friends all across the country. Algeria in 2010 was something that many folks feel like they mnissed the boat on, and I believe what we’re seeing is a wave of fans who didn’t want to miss out again, but also a a new wave of casual fans curious to see what all the fuss is about. Match 1 did not disappoint. If Sunday ends in a tie or result, I think this will go a long way in solidifying numbers like this for many years to come.

    The US national teams are the closest thing our culture has to a legacy club. Seattle, Portland and LA are getting closer, but these numbers don’t lie. The Red White and Blue are our Galacticos.

  6. “You know those rating systems are flawed. They don’t take in account houses that have, uh, more than two television sets and other – other things of that nature.”

  7. I think the fan base is here. I think the quality of MLS holds it back it the equivelant of AA baseball when compared to the top leagues. We still have players who cant pass and just boot the ball. I really think if the technical quality improved MLS would be only behind the NFL and NBA in 10yrs.
    It doesn’t need to be EPL but technical like. Mex only with better athletes.

    • I’d be curious to see how much you watch MLS or, more specifically, if you’ve watched every year since ’96.

      For those of us who have, the league has grown tremendously and the league today is so far beyond the inaugural season and early years it’s ridiculous. The style of play continues to evolve and the technical skills improve. The fanbase in multiple markets make the game more exciting to watch. And, this league is right in our backyard. We can watch the EPL from our living rooms but we’d have to fly 7 hours plus all that time packing, unpacking, in airports, and transporting to and from in order to enjoy it in person.

      Here, we have a growing, solid league with a lot to offer at reasonable prices. And, the best part? If we spend the money, we are more likely to get more top players, which will improve the league, draw more fans who will spend more money, and improve the league more.

      • +1 Don’t always agree with some of the stuff you say bud, but this is exquisite and accurate. MLS is a lot closer to the endgame than people think, particularly if you consider how far it’s come from the “bad old days”. Running countown clocks, comody shootout rules, and Andrew Shue are comfortably in the past. Every few months we add more and more players with Champions League pedigrees and/or potential. Game is exciting. Stadium experience is ever-improving. Only way is onward and upward.

  8. How amazing is this news?

    It’s great to hear that the game is getting this much needed, although limited attention. My feeling is it will drop off after the Cup (duh!) but it is nice to see that Americans are enjoying the Beautiful Game.

    So, how about Mexico yesterday? Is everyone is angry about that? I hope not! Let’s all forgive and forget, okay? 😉 😀

    So, Holland wins by, say, 8 goals today? I say Chile ties Spain.

  9. This is exciting news for the popularity in the sport here in the US.

    Now we need to have better players in order to reel in the casual fan. We must put money into player development. Don’t count on MLS to do this. It must come from US Soccer and one way it can be done is by raising the registration fee for recreational players.
    Then we need to find an administrator with a keen business acumen.
    Wait, isn’t our president an Economics professor?

    • I think it will be double this Sunday. No work, prime viewing time, coming off a thrilling victory… This Sunday could be huge!

  10. Just wait for Sunday’s game. 6 ET on a Sunday is the perfect time slot. With all of this build up and coverage after the Ghana game. Ronaldo, the setting, it will be higher than the USWNT final in 2011.

    And don’t lose perspective on that 16 million. While it’s a small percentage of our vast county. It would be a large number in most other ‘soccer’ nations participating. Holland, for example, has roughly 16 million people.

    • I am surprised the game is not on ABC. What possibly could ABC and their local affiliates be showing that they wouldn’t want the USA vs Portugal game on. Local news, reruns?

  11. Agreed, the numbers don’t tell the story or capture the spirit of community the games inspire… People go to bars, viewing areas. And what about streaming at work, etc.? I love this moment right now: Our expectations are growing, we’ve been part of this tourney for the last several years, but our team doesn’t carry the weight of expectation of the Bigs. Enjoy this moment, because at some point we will win the World Cup – and it will never be the same as this time here and now.

    • For the East coast. Central time, people were scampering home or to a bar early. Mountain and Pacific, people probably had to take some time off.

    • I’d say the 6pm start time hurt them as compared to an 8/9pm start like the NBA finals.

      I know for the World Cup you don’t have the luxury to decide your start times, but when comparing it to other sports, it should be noted the timing wasn’t the most ideal.

  12. Honestly….there is no way these numbers are accurate… there were more than 16 million watching that game… in Atlanta there were a ton of bars that were spilling out into the streets they were so packed…

    the place we went is hardly a soccer bar and there were 250 people in it watching the game…

    • Yeah I agree. We chose a non-soccer bar in Minneapolis for the express purpose of not having to deal with wall to wall people and the place we were at didn’t have an empty seat. Probably every bar or restaurant with TV’s in the US had the game on.

      • Yeah usually I’m all about going to the big soccer bars and standing wall to wall with soccer people. The only problem is that 2010 and this World Cup, the usual soccer bars are getting overrun by those, “ooh it’s the World Cup! Let’s go to the soccer bar and watch the game” crowd. Maybe I’m getting old and I’m getting less patient with idiots. 🙂

    • Can you give any tips on bars in Atlanta that aren’t spilling out into the streets? Any idea if Front Page News was overflow as well (it’s close to the Brewhouse in Little 5)? I’m organizing a group for Sunday.

  13. The top ten rated markets for viewership on ESPN were Washington D.C.; New York City; Hartford-New Haven, Conn.; Boston; Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore, Md.; Providence, R.I.; Orlando, Fla.; San Francisco; and Norfolk, Va.

    Go O-Town! Probably helped a bit by all of our Brazilian tourists!

  14. Can someone educate me on how they adjust the ratings numbers to take in consideration all the people at viewing parties? Or do they not take that into consideration when putting together the number of viewers.

    • They don’t take in those numbers at all. Nielsen ratings only come from people who have Nielsen boxes. That means that people who watched at work, at a bar, or at a giant viewing party were completely unaccounted for. I think it might be safe to say that the actual number watching these games are AT LEAST 2 to 3 times the Nielsen number.

      • Right, but Neilson boxes are used as a sample for extrapolation. Maybe the models take group viewing into account?

      • They don’t. I work in television myself, and it’s one of the biggest issues that our adsales team faces. Since there’s no hard numbers, you can’t monetize an estimate of group viewing. If you look at CNBC, they are the first network to move away from Nielsen numbers. Reason being, there’s no Nielsen boxes at offices so their ratings are horrendous even though estimated millions of businessmen are glued to their channel at work. The person who figures out how to monetize group viewing is never going to have to work again!

      • I don’t want to hijack this too much, but as a statistician, I can’t imagine it would be difficult to incorporate some estimate of group viewership. At least an estimate more accurate than assuming 1 viewer per TV.

        I’ve never worked with TV ratings before, but presumably Nielsen knows who has their boxes (i.e. office, bar, home, etc). With a relatively simple survey they could get base numbers for events for specific days, then with additional surveying figure out spates in group viewership for marquee events.

        Surely they’ve attempted this?

      • Doubtful only because TV is still such a dinosaur most channels and media buyers are afraid to know real numbers. It’s more profitable to ignore massive changes in viewing options and hide behind shadowed numbers.

      • For homes with Nielsen boxes it is almost exactly what you suggested above. They know how many people are in the home, what ages they are, how long the TV is on, what they are watching min by min, and when they change the channel, what program they left to watch. They can even tell with their data when someone fell asleep in front of the TV due to the lack of remote control manipulation! Their home data is actually really accurate, and also the reason that so many companies are willing to pay them for it. It unfortunately is the reason that they can’t put Nielsen boxes in the office, bars, or in massive viewing parties. There’s just no way to accurately measure how many people and all of the age demographics of everyone in a bar or viewing party. And imagine if they tried! I know the second some bouncer at a bar tried to collect that info from me, I’d be looking for another bar ASAP.

  15. We had several watch parties here in SA. First Los Spurs on Sunday then USA on Monday! Freetail Brewery by far has the best atmosphere, but we also have 3 other US Soccer Bars as well as movie theaters hosting watch parties.

    As you could imagine I have no voice. USA!

  16. Columbus (8.9).

    6-10 were Baltimore (8.7), Providence (8.4), Orlando (8.3), San Francisco (8.0) and Norfolk, VA (7.8).

    • I’m amazed there is only one west coast city on there. Maybe the Spanish language broadcasts stole ESPN’s thunder throughout the southwest? I would still expect Seattle and Portland to be on the list, with or without outdoor viewing parties and soccer bars.

      • 6 PM ET start may have had something to do with it. Perhaps a lot of viewers were still at work?

      • Yea, I’m in Chicago and had to race home at exactly 5 and still didn’t make it until half time. (had the game recorded of course)

      • I can say this, that every bar here in Indy was packed. The Indy Eleven watch parties at local establishments were packed at 2:30. US official was packed by 3. Basically, if you didn’t leave work early and get to a place before 5pm, you were out of luck.


      • This has a lot to do with it, I know numerous people who wanted to watch but couldn’t because of work. Sunday might give a better glimpse into which markets really watch it the most

  17. It’s amazing to see the positive progress of Soccer / Futbol in the U.S.. I’m excited for the future and can’t wait to see this sport continue to grow.

    • Excellent point. Millions of people on the West Coast (myself included) were still working when the game kicked off at 3 PM. I streamed it on ESPN 3 and then finished it at home on DVR. I wonder what the Neilson ratings + streaming figures look like?

    • I would also imagine there’s also a fair amount of people using third party streams. I wonder how much these numbers would affect overall viewership.

  18. This is a big deal and keep in mind it doesn’t really have the capacity to factor in group viewing. Some enterprising techie should figure out a way to do that.

    Will be interesting to see what ESPN can do with MLS in light of this. Also will be interesting to see what Fox does next cycle. ESPN’s coverage has been top notch. Yes, Alexi Lalas is incredibly irritating but otherwise, no complaints. If Fox has half a brain, they’ll pony up for Ian Darke and also bring Men in Blazers into the fold. Coverage that doesn’t treat viewers like fools would be a change of pace of Fox Sports but one can hope.

    • Men in Blazers is fricking hilarious. My girl has no clue about Soccer and was laughing her ass off during their last nights World Cup ESPN FC segment.

      • I didn’t see what game it was in but my guess is their dress shirt was the same color as one of the teams on the field.

      • Agree about Men in Blazers. I’ve watched their recaps every night and they never fail to make me bust up laughing. The comparison between Rooney’s corner kick and 50 Cent’s opening pitch was the best.

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