U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard made plenty of saves in Tuesday's World Cup match against Belgium, but ESPN's ratings needed no rescuing.
The United States team's 2-1 loss in extra time to Belgium drew an average of 16.5 million viewers to ESPN, making it the third-most-viewed soccer telecast ever in the U.S.
That's an impressive feat for the Disney-owned cable sports network, particularly considering that many of the U.S. fans were still at work during the game that started at 1 p.m. on the West Coast. The viewership levels came in behind only the 18.2 million who watched Team USA's tie with Portugal on June 22 and the nearly 18 million who saw the U.S. women's team defeat China in 1999.
The U.S. viewership total climbs when adding viewers for the Spanish-language network Univision. An average of 5.1 million people tuned in to Univision's coverage of Tuesday's match, bringing the total to 21.6 million.
The combined viewership on ESPN and Univision for the U.S. match against Portugal was nearly 25 million.
Tuesday's game appears to have captured a record for streams on computers and mobile devices.
According to ESPN, the match drew an average of 3.5 million viewers to its Web video platform WatchESPN, a record for the streaming service.
Univision also posted big online viewership statistics.
Tuesday marked Univision's biggest day ever for its live streaming service, with a total of 1.8 million people watching the U.S.-Belgium match.
The burgeoning digital viewership comes amid increasing availability of apps that enable people to watch programming through their smartphones, tablets and Internet-connected set-top boxes. The television industry calls this "TV everywhere."
As a way to entice more people to use its online TV products, Univision allowed people to watch matches in the group stage and the round of 16 through its Univision Deportes app. But the free trial period is expected to end Friday, and viewers then will have to log in with their pay-TV subscription credentials to see the games.
Overall TV ratings for World Cup coverage in the U.S. has been significantly higher for this year's Brazil tournament compared with previous years. That's due to a combination of factors, including the rising number of U.S. children who play soccer, an increased Latino population and time zones more favorable to American viewers. Games have aired during the daytime and evenings in the U.S.
On ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, coverage of the matches has averaged 4.08 million viewers, an increase of 44% from the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
The rising viewership underscores why TV networks are willing to pay so much to carry the tournament. But if soccer ratings continue to improve in the 2018 World Cup, ESPN and Univision won't be the ones to benefit.
Fox and Telemundo wanted the games so much that they outbid the two incumbents for the rights to broadcast the World Cup in 2018 and 2022. Telemundo agreed to pay nearly $600 million for the Spanish-language package, while Fox agreed to pay $425 million. Those deals also include the women's World Cup tournaments in 2015 and 2019.
That was a dramatic increase over the current contracts. ESPN has paid $100 million and Univision shelled out $325 million.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times