Disney will be happy with the ratings numbers World Cup games have attracted on ABC and ESPN so far, including 14.9 million on ABC for the United States versus Ghana on Saturday afternoon.
Univision, who have the Spanish-language rights, might be even happier, though, having invested even more in the World Cup: they had an additional 4.5 million tune in for the US-Ghana game, but more notably, 9.4 million for Mexico’s loss to Argentina on Sunday — the highest-ever television audience for any Spanish-language programming in the United States. On ABC, meanwhile, a further 6 million tuned in for Mexico-Argentina, giving us a total of 15.4 million viewers for that game on both networks: the Mexican national team continues to grow as a massively valuable television property in the United States.
It’s worth noting Univision paid $325m for their package, while ESPN/ABC paid $100m for the same rights. ESPN, incidentally, is also getting very strong ratings in Hispanic households, up 29% from the 2006 World Cup.
The demographics will delight the networks and bode well for the growth of soccer in the United States, with the 18-34 age group extremely well represented amongst the viewing audience. Reportedly, the median age for World Cup television viewers is 39, while for the Olympic Games, it’s 52.
The total number of viewers for the U.S.-Ghana game, combining ABC and Univision, was 19.4 million: breaking the previous record for a soccer game on television in the United States, the 18.1 million for the 1994 World Cup final, and also becoming the most-watched American national team game, beating the 18 million who tuned in to see the United States against China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final.
All this, of course, has both ESPN and Univision salivating for the 2014 World Cup, for which both already have the television rights as part of their current deals (along with the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany), especially as the tournament will take place in a much friendlier timezone for the United States.
It’s interesting to note, though, that each time the World Cup has been held in the Americas in the modern television-era, kick-off times have been arranged to primarily suit European television, even at the expense of forcing players out in the afternoon heat: in Mexico at the 1986 tournament, all games began at either 12pm Central Standard Time or 4pm CST. The final was at noon in the central United States, early evening in Europe. The 1970 World Cup in Mexico followed exactly the same timing.
The 1994 World Cup in the United States saw most games kicking off in the late morning or afternoon in Central Standard Time, with a few taking place later. The final kicked off at 2.30pm CST. The 1978 World Cup in Argentina was a little more friendly to local time, but still saw an afternoon kickoff.
It will be very interesting to see what times games take place at during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, though regardless, they are guaranteed to be more favourable for television viewing in America, with Rio de Janeiro only one hour ahead of New York City. And if Mexico ends up playing the United States in primetime at the World Cup — well, we’ll no longer have to have the interminable debate about whether soccer is popular in this country or not.