American TV ratings catch World Cup fever, at least when the U.S. plays

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Americans are catching FIFA World Cup fever — at least when the U.S. is playing — as demonstrated by a sharp rise in TV viewership.

The World Cup match between the U.S. and Ghana Monday night drew a combined audience of 15.9 million viewers for ESPN and Univision, the two networks carrying the event, according to initial Nielsen ratings. That was a record for both channels.

In comparison, TV viewership for Friday’s National Hockey League Stanley Cup finals was only 6 million.  Numbers for soccer matches — somewhat surprisingly — were closer to the 17.9 million viewers tuning into the National Basketball Association finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat.

The Wall Street Journal reports that on Monday, Disney Co. owned ESPN — which aired the World Cup match in English along with ESPN2 and ABC — drew a total 11.1 million viewers, becoming the most watched men’s soccer match ever for both ESPN or ESPN2 .

As for online streaming, the ESPN mobile app Watch ESPN also enjoyed record numbers, with a total of 1.4 million viewers.

Univision, broadcasting the World Cup in Spanish on Univision and UniMas networks, as well as cable networks Univision Deportes and Galavision, drew a combined audience of 4.8 million viewers, the best numbers for the World Cup match featuring a U.S. team.

Total viewership was 17% higher than the opening U.S. match against England in the 2010 World Cup, the previous record holder.

Viewership figures of Monday’s game may have set World Cup records for ESPN and Univision, but they are still short of the 24.7 million tuning in to ABC and Univision combined for the 2010 World Cup final.

Regardless of the increasing popularity of soccer in the U.S., American football is still tops: Fox’s broadcast of the 2014 Super Bowl drew a record 111.5 million viewers.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.