U.S. World Cup soccer match kicks up ratings for ESPN

U.S. World Cup soccer match kicks up ratings for ESPN
Rogelio Bobadilla shows his support for the Mexican soccer team during a watch party at Plaza Mexico in Lynwood Tuesday, June 17, 2014. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Portugal and the United States' 2-2 World Cup tie Sunday was the most-viewed soccer match ever in America, according to Nieslen.

An average of 18.2 million Americans tuned in to ESPN to watch the World Cup game, according to Nielsen numbers released by the network Monday. It also broke a record for the most-viewed U.S. match on Univision Deportes, with 6.5 million viewers.

The numbers were pretty impressive for a sport that has never really caught on with American viewers. In fact, Sunday's match even blew past the kind of numbers typically reserved for the NFL's "Monday Night Football." Those games averaged 13.6 million viewers last year, according to Nielsen numbers provided by ESPN, with a peak of 16.5 million when the Philadelphia Eagles played the Washington Redskins in a season opener.

Some of the credit goes to the World Cup matches being broadcast during prime daytime spots in the U.S. since the matches are played in Brazil. But the history-making numbers also indicate the growing allure of soccer among Americans, especially among younger people.

"With growing ethnic diversity, kids are growing up into a soccer culture that older Americans didn't have," said Brad Adgate, senior vice president for research at the New York advertising firm Horizon Media.

World Cup viewership is up 32% in the key 18- to 49-year-old demographic compared with the last tournament in 2010, according to ESPN. This trend could bode well for the sport's long-term growth in America.

"Kids that are growing up today have the technological capability to connect with others around the world and travel more so than any other generation," said Scott Guglielmino, senior vice president of programming at ESPN. "Soccer is a vehicle to experience other cultures."

All 64 matches are available live on connective devices, making it easier for fans and lukewarm observers alike to tune in, Guglielmino said. For the first 32 matches, online streaming app WatchESPN posted a 158% increase in viewers over 2010, according to an ESPN.

The figures also testify to the influence of social media.

Twitter offers a World Cup 2014 feature displaying the day's matches and scores. Beneath each listing is a "view match" link that takes users to pages displaying all Twitter content related to the games and the teams. On Facebook, 32 million people "like" the FIFA World Cup page.

"The whole world is watching, so why wouldn't you?" Adgate said.