U.S.-Ghana World Cup Match One For The History Books

Team USA’s 2010 FIFA World Cup dreams were scuttled on Saturday, but ABC can be consoled by the deliveries the Group of 16 match served up.

Per Nielsen, U.S.-Ghana averaged 14.9 million total viewers between 2:30 p.m. and 5:12 p.m., making it the most-watched men’s World Cup broadcast in U.S. history.

Only the U.S.team’s triumph in the 1999 Women’s World Cup out-delivered the U.S.-Ghana match, averaging just a hair under 18 million viewers. Saturday’s game beat the previous record for a men’s World Cup telecast; the 1994 Brazil-Italy final drew 14.5 million viewers to ABC.

Once again, soccer-mad San Diego was the top market for Saturday’s match, delivering a 15.4 rating. (The DMA was tops for all four US World Cup matches.) Rounding out the top five markets for Saturday’s match were: Washington, D.C. (13.8); San Francisco (13.3); Cincinnati (12.9) and Las Vegas.

Through the first 50 matches of the World Cup, ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 are averaging 2.78 million viewers, up 60 percent from 1.74 million at this juncture four years ago.

While there’s no question that the U.S. team’s thrill-ride through group play has made converts out of a lot of Americans, it’s uncertain if ABC/ESPN can hold the newbies’ interest now that the home team is out of the running. On June 14, two days after Team USA battled England to a 1-1 draw, ESPN executive vp John Skipper addressed the role parochialism might play on the ratings.

“It’s a wonderful plus for us if the US team keeps moving on, but we maintained last time––and we maintain this time––that there will be very significant growth whether or not the U.S. team advances,” Skipper said. “In those games that the American team is in, we’re going to do great numbers because I think there is great interest. But I think people will continue to watch, and the tournament will be up dramatically, whether they stay in or not.”

The U.S. side smashed ratings record at every turn, drawing 6.16 million viewers with its 1-0 win over Algeria on June 23, making it the most-watched soccer game in ESPN history. USA-England scared up 13 million viewers on ABC; in doing so, it became the most-watched first-round World Cup game ever.