As World Cup finals go, Sunday’s Spain-Netherlands match may not exactly burn bright in the memory, unless you like a little Kung Fu thrown in with your football. But as Nielsen notes, the July 11 broadcast goes down in history as the most-watched soccer match in U.S. TV history.
The stateside audience for the World Cup final in South Africa drew 24.4 million viewers to ABC and Univision, topping the previous record set two weeks earlier. Team USA’s 2-1 loss to Ghana in the Round of 16 drew an aggregate 19.4 million fans to ABC and Univision on June 26.
Spain’s 1-0 victory over a spiky Dutch side drew 15.5 million viewers to ABC, falling short of the 18 million viewers who cheered on the US team in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final on July 10, 1999. In a match that was scoreless after extra time, the host team beat China in a shootout, with Brandi Chastain famously booting the winning PK.
The top three metered markets for ABC’s four-hour Sunday afternoon telecast (including pre- and post-match analysis) were: San Francisco (14.7), San Diego (13.6) and New York (13.1).
This year’s tournament ranks as the most-watched World Cup ever on English-language TV in the United States. In 64 matches, ESPN/ABC/ESPN2 averaged 3.26 million total viewers, up 41 percent from the 2006 event (2.32 million).
Univision’s coverage of Spain’s first World Cup title was seen by 8.82 million total viewers, a draw that included 5.37 million adults 18-49 and 3.26 million viewers 18-34. As expected, the match was the most-watched final in the Spanish-language broadcaster’s history, outmatching the 2006 final (France v. Italy) by 49 percent.
Miami was the top-rated local Univision market, drawing a 16.8 household rating. Los Angeles (11.9) and Houston (10.7) finished second and third among Spanish-language viewers.
Despite a dogged performance by the Spanish side and a last-minute goal that prevented the match from going to a shootout, the most memorable moment of the final may well be Dutch midfielder/Ninja assassin Nigel de Jong’s karate kick to the chest of Spain’s Xabi Alonso.
While de Jong received only a yellow card, the flagrant foul was reminiscent of the head-butt that got France captain Zinedine Zidane sent off in the 2006 final after he’d been goaded by Italian midfielder Marco Materazzi. Without their leader, the French would go on to lose the championship in PKs by a 5–4 margin.