Ratings for USA at Mexico provide insight into America's soccer audience

Miguel Tovar

It was a record setting performance for non-World Cup soccer, but the real big numbers were not put up by ESPN.

Recently rebranded station UniMas (formerly Telefutura) grabbed huge numbers (4.8 Million average viewers) for the United States at Mexico World Cup Qualifier. ESPN put up its largest number ever (2.4 Million average viewers) for a World Cup Qualifier, essentially doubling its past record. Both of those numbers give an indication that the strength of American soccer viewership is built upon two things.

First, national appeal is always going to beat out both local clubs and the world's best. No MLS game comes close to those numbers, which shouldn't be a surprise. But even the Champions League on broadcast Fox can't touch those totals. This also is not something that should be a surprise. Americans like America. They like to root for America. Detroit does not like to root for Seattle, nor should they. But they will watch the U-S of A. Insert hundreds of metro areas where "Detroit" is.

Second, American soccer viewership is strongly influenced by the Latino population. This is actually true at the club and national level. This does not mean that all of UniMas' numbers were due to people of Mexican heritage cheering on Mexico. One need only look at ESPN's recent decision to carry LigaMx games in English to supplement ESPN Desportes coverage of the league. They are the 6th US network to show games from south of the border. The Playoff Final for the Primera typically gets just over two million viewers, roughly on par with the UEFA Champions League. MLS on UniMas gets strong ratings, despite it not being widely available.

These leads to interesting viewership numbers and decisions for Major League Soccer, SUM and the various sports networks. The interest in soccer, particularly national team soccer, is quite strong, but not within the audience that they traditionally target. That's OK. They are finding ways to adapt to the changing cultural landscape and the sport's fans are rewarding those that do with great numbers.

No joke. Great numbers. Numbers that beat almost everything that was on last night. It might take two different languages to cover properly, but soccer on TV in America is doing just fine.

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