Ratings Roundup: ABC, Univision Combine To Set U.S. Ratings Record for Soccer Game

The United States may finally be catching the soccer fever, as 24.3 million people tuned in on ABC and Univision to watch Spain’s 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in the World Cup final Sunday, making it the most-watched soccer game in U.S. television history. According to Nielsen Fast Nationals, 15.5 million viewers on ABC and 8.8 million watched on Univision, a record for a Spanish-language network in the U.S.

ABC’s telecast delivered an 8.1 household rating, 9,389,000 households, and 15,545,000 viewers for the two-hour game window (2:30-5 p.m. ET). Only the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final (U.S.-China from the Rose Bowl) averaged more households and viewers for a soccer game (11,307,000 and 17,975,000).

Overall, the 2010 World Cup ranks as the most-viewed World Cup ever on English-language TV in the United States. In 64 matches, the ESPN networks (ESPN/ESPN2/ABC) averaged a 2.1 U.S. household rating, 2,288,000 households, and 3,261,000 viewers.  The rating is up 31% from 2006 (1.6), while household impressions are up 32% (from 1,735,000) and viewers are up 41% (from 2,316,000).

Univision’s Spanish-language coverage of the World Cup was also a major success.  The network averaged 2.374 million viewers before the match, up 15% from 2006 and the highest average ever for the World Cup on the network. The World Cup drew two of the three largest audiences in network history, including Sunday’s Spain-Netherlands final and Argentina-Mexico on June 27 (9.405 million viewers, the largest audience in Univision history).

An average of 9.9 million people in the U.S. watched The Decision on ESPN last Thursday, in which LeBron James announced his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers in favor of the Miami Heat. The telecast peaked at 13.1 million viewers during the 9:15-9:30 p.m. ET quarter-hour, when James officially announced his decision.

The special ranks as the most-viewed non-NFL telecast on ESPN since the USC-Ohio State regular-season showdown last September (10.586 million) and the third-most-viewed non-NFL telecast on the network in the past 20 years. Only the USC-Ohio State game and the 1998 Cubs-Cardinals game in which Mark McGwire hit his 61st home run of the season drew more viewers, according to Sports Business Daily.

Only three NBA games on cable have ever drawn more viewers than The Decision did Thursday night: the 2003 NBA All-Star Game and Games 4 and 5 of the Magic-Cavaliers East Final in 2009.

The Decision was also the third-most-viewed cable program of any kind this year, ranking behind only the NFL Pro Bowl (12.3 million) and a January episode of Nickelodeon’s ICarly.

The U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament continued its ratings struggles over the weekend, posting a ratings drop for the fifth year in a row. According to overnight numbers, final-round coverage of the U.S. Women’s Open drew a 1.1 overnight rating on NBC Sunday, down 15% from last year (1.3), 31% from 2008 (1.6), and 42% from 2007 (1.9). The 1.1 overnight is the lowest for final=round coverage of the event since at least 1996.

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