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U.S. Team’s Success Gives World Cup Ratings a Bounce

The 2014 World Cup is winding down to the business end of the tourney, with U.S. rights-holders on pace to shatter ratings and streaming records with the global soccer competition from Brazil.

Buoyed by group-stage advances by the U.S. and Mexico, ESPN and Univision properties had established new Nielsen marks through the Round of 16 matches. Now, the question is: Will the tourney continue on its ratings run in that round, following the elimination of the United States and Mexico despite the heroics of goalkeepers Tim Howard and Guillermo Ochoa?

ESPN’s late-afternoon telecast of the United States’ 2-1 loss to Belgium in extra time on July 1 averaged a 9.8 rating and nearly 16.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen data, making it the second most-watched men’s soccer match here in the U.S. across all networks, behind the 18.2 million who saw the team’s 2-2 draw with Portugal on June 22.

Univision’s coverage of El Tri’s excruciating ouster by the Netherlands on June 29 netted the largest Spanish-language audience in U.S. TV history. The Univision-Univision Deportes simulcast of Mexico’s 2-1 loss to the Dutch in stoppage time on a controversial foul and penalty kick netted 10.4 million viewers on average, according to Nielsen data. That surpassed the 9.4 million who watched Mexico-Argentina in the same stage of the 2010 World Cup and the 9 million who viewed telenovela Destilando Amor on Dec. 3, 2007, which still ranks as the all-time biggest Spanish-language entertainment show in the States.

Bolstered by those top performances — and other big audiences involving the U.S., as the team’s four matches averaged 14 million watchers — ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC had averaged 4.1 million watchers with the first 56 matches through July 1, up 44% from 2.8 million at the corresponding stage of the 2010 World Cup from South Africa.

Univision, UDN, UniMas and Galavisión, meanwhile, averaged 3.1 million viewers through 56 matches, up 39% from 2010. The four matches involving Mexico averaged 7.3 million watchers.

Reflecting the broad interest in the action from Brazil, officials at ESPN and Univision indicated their coverage had reached 99 million and 70.9 million viewers, respectively. In 2010, Nielsen estimated the combined reach of the two rightsholders at 111.6 million.

Considering the large number of viewing parties in parks, taverns, restaurants and homes, those numbers may be vastly understated.

Viewership has been stoked by the growing Stateside interest in soccer and a favorable time differential — Brazil is one hour ahead of the U.S. East Coast, resulting in afternoon and earlyevening matches, versus the morning schedule from four years ago. Still, the vast majority of the matches have been slated during weekday work hours, meaning match streaming has soared.

WatchESPN delivered a platform-record average-minute audience of 1.1 million viewers for U.SBelgium, providing a 7% percent lift to ESPN’s television viewership and topping the previous record set for U.S.-Germany on June 26. WatchESPN also averaged 3.5 million unique viewers and 190.2 million minutes viewed during the match, both records for the platform.

Univision Digital scored its all-time highest day for live video with 5.6 million streams for Switzerland- Argentina and U.S.-Belgium on July 1, which now ranks as the platform’s second most-trafficked day, with 10.2 million visits, just behind the 10.3 million on June 23.

The U.S.-Belgium battle streamed for 91 million minutes and delivered 563,000 viewers during an average minute, outperforming Brazil-Mexico’s 83 million minutes streamed and 541,000 viewers during an average minute on June 17.