World Cup Set to Win U.S. Audience

NEW YORK—The U.S. fan base for soccer has grown significantly since 2010, when 94.5 million Americans tuned into a televised match during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The number of U.S. adults who attended a major match since 2010 is up 87 percent, according to Nielsen. The number of people who watched, attended or listened to a major match is up by a third. Ad spending increased by 43 percent from 2010 through 2013, while the number of TV networks carrying games doubled in the same period, with the occasional game being carried on business news net CNBC.

Disney and Univision hold the U.S. broadcast rights to the 2014 World Cup, commencing in Sao Paulo, Brazil this Thursday, June 12, at 4 p.m. ET, with Brazil taking on Croatia at Arena Corinthians. The match will be carried by ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN Radio; Univision and Univision Deportes; and on the Fútbol de Primera radio network in the United States. CBC, Radio-Canada and TSN Radio will carry it up north.

The U.S. team, shown practicing in Sao Paulo June 10, is fresh of an exhibition win against Nigeria, will start off against Ghana on Monday, June 16, 6 p.m. ET. The play structure comprises eight groups of four teams each. Each team plays the other within the group, with the top two advancing to the round-of-16 and on to playoffs.

The United States is in a “group of death” with Ghana, Germany—a World Cup favorite—and Portugal, whose forward Christiano Ronaldo is considered possibly the best currently on the field of play. BleacherReport gives the U.S. team the edge over Ghana, but just. In 2010, Ghana knocked the U.S. out during round-of-16 play in what became the most-watched live soccer game in the United States, with a combined average of 24 million viewers.

World Cup matches, which will continue this year through July 13, typically culminate in titanic clashes among European and South American countries. And while U.S. audiences tend to gravitate toward sports dominated by their compatriots, the nation’s growing Spanish-speaking population—up 48 percent between 2000 and 2011—elevates viewership for the World Cup.

Hispanics comprise the majority of U.S. soccer viewers, according to Nielsen. The U.S. audience for 2013 televised soccer events was 67 percent Hispanic, 23 percent white, 6 percent African American and 4 percent Asian. Across 2010, it was 56 percent Hispanic, 32 percent white, 7 percent African American and 3 percent Asian.

Univision DeportesNetwork, which has 40 million subscribers, is going 24/7 for this year’s tournament, according to Mike Reynolds of Multichannel News. The Spanish-language sports network pulled in a record average of 2.4 million viewers across the month-long 2010 World Cup coverage.

Between the growing popularity of the sport and the U.S.-compatible time of this year’s venues, UDN president Carlos Rodriguez said he expected a 20 percent bump in ratings for the World Cup. The projection is in line with audience growth between the 2006 and 2010 events, when U.S. viewership rose 20 percent, “the largest increase in audience reach of any measured market analyzed,” FIFA said in the 2010 post mortem.

Nielsen noted that both English- and Spanish-language networks have increased soccer coverage, from 2,600 telecasts in 2010 to 3,890 last year. Soccer programming hours increased 43 percent during the period—same as TV ad spending—which totaled $378 million last year. A 30-second spot averaged $389,000 in the 2010 versus $129,000 in 2006. Figures for this year’s average are not yet available, but ESPN’s president of global customer marketing and sales, Ed Erhardt, said he expects the network to have “significantly higher ad sales” this year than in 2010, he told Ad Agein early April, and that demand at that time was high, and inventory tight.

Also see…

Full 2014 World Cup Game Schedule on ABC, ESPN and Univision Networks,, June 9, 2014.

World Cup Groups 2014: Odds, Table Predictions and FIFA Tournament Preview, BleacherReport, June 9, 2014.

2014 World Cup Preview, TV Listings and Game Schedule, at The Washington Post, June 9, 2014.

U.S. Men’s Soccer Team is Ready for World Cup to Begin in Brazil, Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2014.