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U.S.-Portugal Takes Over as Top Match

Soccer fans in the United States have helped 2014 World Cup rights-holders, ESPN and Univision, reap ratings and streaming records through the tournament’s group stage.

The linear tallies were topped by the 2-2 U.S.-Portugal draw on June 22, as ESPN and Univision/Univision Deportes Network combined to average 25.7 million homes, the most ever for a soccer match in the United States, surpassing the 24.3 million for Spain’s win over the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final.

ESPN scored with 18.2 million viewers on June 22. Univision kicked in another 6.5 million, its most ever for a match involving the U.S. men’s national team.

Not surprisingly, Univision, whose audience includes a significant Mexican- American population, scored big with a pair of El Tri games. The June 24 telecast of the Mexico-Croatia game garnered a group stage record 7.1 million, eclipsing the 6.8 million for the June 17 Brazil game.

Through the 48 games of the group stage, English-language networks ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, as well as the four Spanish-language outlets Univision, Univision Deportes Network, UniMas and Galavision, netted World Cup-record average match audiences of 3.5 million and 2.9 million, respectively.

Those numbers were aided by the 14.2 million — ESPN tallied its third-best-ever total with 10.8 million watchers, while Univision had 3.4 million — for the midday U.S.- Germany match on June 26, which pushed the U.S. into the round of 16, setting up a July 1 match against Belgium .

“A telecast airing in the early afternoon on a weekday just isn’t going to attract the same numbers as one airing on the fringe of Sunday primetime,” Ratings Intelligence editor A.J. Katz said. “You air the U.S.- Germany on a Sunday at 6 p.m., and it’s more than likely the numbers surpass those from U.S.-Portugal due to the variety of storylines and what was at stake.”

Given that most people had to work, the U.S.-Germany also made its mark digitally. WatchESPN added an additional 1.05 million viewers to ESPN ’s telecast, lifting its average minute audience by 10% to over 12 million. Univision Digital also broke records with 1.7 million unique viewers for the U.S.-Germany match — making it Univision Deportes’ biggest live stream event ever.