The ratings are in, and it's official — the 2010 World Cup is a hit with American viewers. Last weekend's United States vs. England match attracted 17.1 million viewers, making it the most-watched first-round game in the history of American World Cup telecasts, and beating the average 16.4 million viewers racked up by the first six games of the NBA finals. In the first weekend of the tournament, the average World Cup game had 4.2 million viewers, an 80 percent rise over 2006. Why is this tournament suddenly lighting up American television screens? (Watch a tongue-in-cheek Fox report about Americans and soccer)
1. ESPN's marketing push...
ESPN threw millions of dollars at its World Cup marketing campaign, says Sean Gregory in Time, more than it had spent "for any other single event in the network's history." Sports viewers trust ESPN, says marketing expert Paul Swangard. "If you have arguably the number one sports brand telling you this is important," he says, more people will tune in.
2. ...and all the other soccer-themed commercials
It's not just ESPN spending money on World Cup marketing, says John Shimer at WEEI. Companies such as Budweiser, AT&T, Adidas, Nike, Allstate, Hyundai, and FloTV all have "soccer-themed commercials." Even for the World Cup, this is an unprecedented marketing "onslaught."
3. There's now a generation of Americans who grew up playing soccer
Thanks to a boom in youth soccer since the 1970s, the U.S. now has a "critical mass of fans who understand the game," says an editorial in the Hartford Courant. And they're tuning in like never before. "Nothing engenders support for a sport like playing it, and three decades of travel teams may finally be putting the game across here."
4. Sports fans are more worldly than before
American sports fans in 2010 are more aware of what goes on overseas than they have been before, says Time's Sean Gregory. In 2010's global marketplace, you now "come across as worldly" if you can fluently talk about the "Brazilian attack at a cocktail party." More than ever before, "there's a cache to watching the World Cup, whether or not your passions are real."
5. This opening-weekend data is skewed by scheduling
The viewing figures touted by ESPN, ABC, and Univision, the Spanish-language network, were inflated by the tournament schedule, says Sam Schechner at The Wall Street Journal. Both the U.S. and Mexico played in the first two days (in 2006, neither played until after the opening weekend). Until the entire first week's ratings data is released, we can't accurately gauge the success of this Cup.