Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Viewing Habits Die Hard

The world cup final aired this past Sunday, and I’ll let you in on a little secret, I didn’t watch it. I feel that you can keep that secret just between us as it would otherwise hurt my blogging credentials. As I mentioned to some of my followers on Twitter, my reason for not watching was because I already knew the viewing audience would be the largest ever for a soccer match shown in the United States, and that Nielsen didn’t need my household to help with that effort. Actually I was somewhere between Baltimore and Orlando flying home from vacation with the family, but the aforementioned excuse sounds much better.

The numbers leading into the world cup final on the “ESPN family of networks” made it pretty clear that the last match would top all previous records for soccer programming. Actually, it did a little better than that, it was the largest soccer audience ever for an English-speaking nation, take that Bermuda. According to Nielsen's fast-national ratings for Sunday, a total of 24.3 million people watched the final on ABC and Univision, surpassing the previous record of 19.4 million for the USA v Ghana match in the round of 16.

EPLtalk.com had a great article on comparing viewing stats from this match with other sporting events, which you can find here, and we won’t steal from them. However one fact that is interesting which needs repeating is the number of viewers in the two competing countries, Spain and Holland.

Spain registered it’s highest ever television audience with 15.6 million viewers, which may not sound like a lot, but based on the country’s population that equates to a whopping 86% of the total viewing audience. What was the major draw for the other 14% of the Spanish viewing audience? Perhaps it was an episode of “So you think you can Flamenco,” but who really knows.

As amazing as those numbers were, Holland registered 8.5 million viewers or an unbelievable 90.6% of the total viewing audience. The remaining 9% of the audience may have been watching a wooden shoe spectacular on the Dutch version of the Home Shopping Network, but again that data is hard to obtain.

These numbers are amazing on their own, but let’s put them against the grand daddy of them all for gun-touting, beer guzzling Americans like myself, the Super Bowl (trademarked and licensed by the NFL under penalty of death). In a great article by
The Huffington Post back in February, they broke down the numbers for the Saints v Colts match-up which ended up being the most watched program of all time
. With a total of 106.5 million viewers for the Super Bowl, the world cup final comes no where close to those numbers. However the interesting fact in all of this is that our biggest sporting event at its highest rating ever, could only grab 68% of the total viewing audience in America.

So for those who say soccer will never be as big in the United States as it is in Europe, I completely agree, the numbers don't lie. Look at it this way, our crown jewel for sports, the Super Bowl, can’t even approach the percentage of audience ratings that Spain and Holland saw for the final. I can’t stop and wonder what the percentage might have been if the USA had made it to the finals. Only the future can provide an answer to that question, until then I am off to practice my wooden-shoe version of Flamenco, “Hup Hup Ole”!

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