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D.C. Residents Tune In for World Cup

Record Number of Viewers for Soccer Tournament

Stacy M. Brown | 7/9/2014, 3 p.m.
Fans at Mayor Vincent Gray’s World Cup Viewing Party at Freedom Plaza in Northwest rooted for the home team on July 1. (Courtesy of Channel 4)

Curiosity got the best of Chance Dominguez and Arianna Soto, so the avid soccer fans abandoned their original plans and headed to Freedom Plaza where Mayor Vincent Gray played host to a World Cup watch party.

“We wanted to see how many people would show up,” Dominguez, 33, of Northeast said. Soto, 31, quickly added that she’d rather watch on television the pursuit of international soccer domination, but she and Dominguez had to get a feel for how others in the District took to their favorite sport.

“It’s a blast to know that so many people are interested in the World Cup,” Soto said. “It’s easy to believe that Chance and I and our immediate friends are the only ones here in D.C. watching.”

Officials at the Nielsen Company, which measures television ratings, said ESPN’s telecast of Team USA’s 2-1 loss to Belgium in the Round of 16 elimination match on July 1 earned a record 9.8 rating with an average of 16.5 million viewers. An additional 5.1 million caught the game on the Spanish network, Univision, bringing the total to more than 21.6 million for the game.

The 21.6 million represented an increase over the 18.22 million who tuned in for a match between Team USA and Portugal in June.

The District led all markets for the telecast with a whopping 13.3 rating, followed by Columbus, Ohio (12.6), New York (12.5), Boston (11.5), and Hartford/New Haven, Connecticut (11.3).

Baltimore pulled in an 11.0 rating while Norfolk, Virginia ratings came in at 10.5.

“With an audience of 25 million viewers for the game between the United States and Portugal, the World Cup is moving into elite territory as a sports property on American television,” said Bill Carter, the media writer for The New York Times.

“Ratings for the game were the highest for any soccer game telecast in America and reached more viewers than events like the NBA Finals or the World Series,” Carter said.

Soccer fans should be excited about the sport’s growing popularity, and Carter noted that the Stanley Cup Playoffs aren’t “even remotely as popular as the World Cup.”

He said the NHL’s postseason averaged just 5 million viewers this year despite a Final that featured two of the league’s marquee teams from the top two markets in the country, the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings.

“While not near the totals scored by the NFL playoffs or, certainly, the Super Bowl, the American audience for the World Cup easily eclipsed the NBA Finals, which averaged 15.5 million viewers, as well as the 2013 World Series, which averaged 14.9 million viewers,” Carter said.

Sports fans, writers and media watchers said the increase in interest in the World Cup reflects a general curiosity in the games where competition continues this month in Brazil.

Carter said a generation of younger viewers who grew up playing the sport in youth leagues now count among the more devoted viewers of the sport.

“Also note that while the World Cup draws fans who love the sport, some viewers’ interests are driven by nationalist passions,” said Bill Chappel, a blogger and producer for National Public Radio in Northeast.