World Cup TV Ratings: Over 18M For USA/Portugal on ESPN, Sets Non-Football Cable Record

Posted by | June 23, 2014 at 3:00 PM

Even without factoring in the Univision audience, Sunday’s United States/Portugal World Cup match was a massive television draw.

The USA/Portugal FIFA World Cup match earned a 9.6 U.S. rating and 18.2 million viewers on ESPN, according to Nielsen fast-nationals — the largest audience ever for the World Cup on a single U.S. TV network. The previous high was 18.0 million for the USA/China Women’s World Cup final in 1999. The 9.6 rating is the second-highest for the World Cup on a single network, trailing only an 11.4 in ’99.

ESPN’s USA/Portugal telecast is easily the most-watched non-football sporting event in cable TV history. The previous high was 16.3 million for the Kentucky/Wisconsin Final Four game on TBS, TNT and TruTV earlier this year.

Including football games, the match ranks as the eleventh most-watched sporting event in cable history. Only four Monday Night Football games have earned a larger audience — Packers/Vikings in 2009 (21.8M), Patriots/Saints in 2010 (21.4M), Saints/Falcons in 2010 (19.1M) and Eagles/Cowboys in 2008 (18.6M). Six college football games have done better, all either BCS title games (four times) or the Rose Bowl (twice).

The ESPN telecast alone topped every game of the recent NBA Finals, including the clinching Game 5 one week earlier (18.0M). It topped all-but-one of last year’s World Series games, finishing behind the clinching Game 6 (19.2M). It also topped every Stanley Cup Final telecast in U.S. TV history.

Finally, ESPN’s coverage topped the combined audience for USA/Ghana last Monday (15.9M).

When the Univision numbers are included, the match is likely to rank as the #2 non-NFL/Olympic sporting event of 2014, trailing only the BCS National Championship Game on ESPN. As it is, the ESPN telecast ranks as the #5 such program of the year, trailing only the BCS title game (26.4M), the NCAA Tournament title game (21.2M), the Belmont Stakes (20.4M) and the Rose Bowl (18.6M).

(Sun. numbers from ESPN)