NEW YORK – The United States’ 2-2 World Cup draw with Portugal is almost certainly the most-watched soccer match ever in this country, an emphatic confirmation of the sport’s rising popularity in a nation slower to embrace it than much of the rest of the world.
The Nielsen company said Sunday’s gripping game was seen by an average of 24.7 million viewers on ESPN and Univision. That matches it with the 24.7 million U.S. viewers who saw the 2010 World Cup final between champion Spain and the Netherlands.
ESPN officials said an additional 490,000 people streamed coverage of the match on their mobile devices through the company’s app. Streaming numbers for 2010 weren’t immediately available, but it is highly unlikely they were that high because streaming apps then were less sophisticated.
Many factors were in place to make the match so popular: It was an exciting contest; interest in the U.S. team was high because of the first-match victory over Ghana; and World Cup viewing in general has been high. The Sunday-evening time slot for some time zones also meant many Americans were available to watch.
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“It indicates that a large group in our audience is really following the story of the World Cup, which is really terrific,” said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN senior vice president of programming.
American players sense the support back home, as well as in stadiums in Brazil, and say they appreciate it. Viewing parties have pulled thousands of people into bars, parks, movie theaters and other locations since the tournament began.
“When we get back to the hotel and we hear about Grant Park in Chicago having 10,000 fans out to watch the game and friends and family are sending pictures and videos of what’s going on, it can’t help but push you on because we want to make every person watching back home proud of us and proud to watch our team,” said U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley.