World Cup Scores TV Goals Amid Favorable Conditions

With competitive matches and a more favorable time differential than in 2010, the 2014 FIFA World Cup is putting a lot of viewers in the ratings net for the U.S. rights-holders, Univision and ESPN.

Through the first 23 matches — those played through June 19 — ESPN/ESPN2/ABC have averaged a 2.3 rating and 3.72 million viewers, representing gains of 21% and 26%, respectively, from the 1.9 rating and 2.95 million watchers at that stage of the 2010 tournament in South Africa. The networks have combined to reach 65 million viewers through the fi rst 17 matches, up 16% from 2010.

Matches simulcast on Univision and Univision Deportes Network, the cable service that counts some 40 million subscribers and acts as a de facto World Cup network through tourney’s end on July 13, have averaged 3.5 million viewers (up 45% from 2010) and 1.8 million adults 18 to 49 (up 31%). Univision officials put its reach at some 42 million for the first 20 matches, 37% more than at the same stage of the 2010 event.

ESPN notched the biggest audience to date with its June 16 coverage of the U.S. vs. Ghana. The 2-1 triumph by Sam’s Army averaged a 6.3 rating and nearly 11.1 million viewers to rank as the most-watched men’s soccer game in ESPN history.

Coupled with the 4.8 million who watched the match on Univision/UDN — the network’s most ever for a U.S. men’s team match — U.S.-Ghana drew just under 16 million viewers in English and Spanish last Monday.

With the scoreless Mexico-Brazil tie on June 18 delivering 6.8 million viewers, the most ever for a Univision group-stage World Cup telecast, Univision netted the second through fifth most-watched games through the tourney’s first week. Among the 18-to-49 set, the top five rankings were slightly different.

“It’s going as well as I expected,” Horizon Media senior vice president and director of research Brad Adgate said. “If the U.S. makes it to the Round of 16 — which I didn’t think it would be able to — then ratings will be better than I expected.” He added he was not surprised by the viewing growth, the young demographics or multiplatform usage.

ESPN has posted a strong 2.4 rating among males 18-34 and a 160% surge over 2010 among average viewers for WatchESPN.

Univision officials report match coverage has outperformed ESPN among 18-to-34s in key DMAs and that the first week of the World Cup gave Univision Digital its seven most-visited days ever.