The Netherlands are not the only huge winners thus far at this year's World Cup. You can add ESPN and Spanish-language network Univision as well.
ESPN’s broadcast of the United States’ 2-2 tie against Portugal averaged 18.22 million viewers on Sunday night, making it the most-viewed soccer match ever involving a United States team. The broadcast topped the previous high of 17.976 million viewers for the 1999 Women’s World Cup final (won by the U.S. over China) on ABC.
The U.S.-Portugal game also drew 6.5 million viewers on Univision, making it the most-watched U.S. match ever on that network. Thus, the official combined viewership for the match in the United States was 24.7 million viewers, but this does not count the many watch parties across America as well as the hordes of people viewing in bars and restaurants. The real number is probably closer to 30 million.
ESPN officials said the telecast peaked from 7:30 to 8 p.m. ET with an average of 22,961,000 viewers. The network also said its WatchESPN digital product drew a total of 1,373,000 viewers.
The match was ESPN’s most-viewed sporting event on its airwaves excluding NFL and college football telecasts and is a clear indication of the growth of the World Cup as a television event.
The team's 2-1 win over Ghana on June 16 drew 11,093,000 viewers, and through the first 32 matches, the ESPN/ESPN2/ABC coverage has averaged 4,273,000 viewers, up 50 percent from 2010. A Univision spokesperson said its network is up 48 percent in ratings over 2010.
Regarding local markets, ESPN said its top-rated markets for U.S.-Portugal were as followed:
1. Washington, D.C. (which drew a 13.3 share).
3. New York City
5. Hartford/New Haven
The top-ranked markets for Univision's coverage of U.S.-Portugal included:
1. Miami/Fort Lauderdale
2. Los Angeles
4. San Francisco/Oakland
There were 18 markets that recorded their highest overnight rating for a World Cup match on ESPN or ESPN2. Overall, ESPN said Washington, D.C, has been the highest rated market for all its World Cup matches followed by New York, San Francisco, Orlando, Los Angeles, Hartford/New Haven, Atlanta, San Diego, Boston, West Palm Beach and Richmond.
Outside of matches involving the U.S., ESPN drew one of its biggest group stage match audiences ever with 5,735,000 viewers tuning in for Germany vs. Ghana on June 21.
The next match for the United States (against Germany) airs on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN and Univision. Given the time of the day, it is highly unlikely to pass the Portugal viewership number, but the overall viewership will easily set ESPN records for that afternoon time slot.