Sunday night's final between USA and Japan in the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup was noteworthy for more than just the American victory: According to Nielsen, more people in the United States tuned into Fox's broadcast of the game than for any other soccer game in history, women's or men's. It's an undeniable testament to girl power, but it could also mean that Americans are finally paying attention to soccer as a competitive, primetime sport.
An average of 25.4 million people in the United States watched Sunday night's match, with viewership increasing as the game went on. Between 8:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. ET, viewership peaked at a whopping 30.9 million people. Another 1.3 million people watched the Spanish-language broadcast on Telemundo. It's now the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history, beating the 2014 men's World Cup game between the United States and Portugal and the 2014 men's World Cup final between Germany and Argentina.
To put the game in another perspective, Sunday night's World Cup match also topped the championship-winning games of last month's NBA Finals and the 2014 World Series. In fact, it was the most-watched telecast in the country since the NCAA Men's Basketball championship game in April. Could these numbers mean that American soccer is catching on in this sports-crazy country?
Soccer may be more than just a Saturday-morning pastime for elementary school children. The very fact that Sunday night's game — and previous Women's World Cup games — aired on a major broadcast network, in this case, Fox, suggests that it's worthy of its primetime status.
Then, there are the viewership numbers. Based on recent trends in viewership, Sunday night's numbers shouldn't be that surprising. In 2014, the men's World Cup final between Germany and Argentina became the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history, with more than 17 million viewers watching the English-language broadcast and more than 9 million watching the Spanish-language broadcast.
That final game — in which the U.S. team didn't even play — broke earlier records from made in the same World Cup. ESPN's broadcast of the earlier-round game between the United States and Ghana was watched by a then-record-setting 11.1 million people. Following that game, a record-setting 18.2 million people tuned into the U.S.A.-Portugal matchup. From these numbers, it would seem that soccer grows in popularity in the United States, game by game.
But it's not just TV viewership that demonstrates the surge in soccer's popularity. In 2014, Americans bought more than 200,000 tickets to the men's World Cup games in Brazil, second in quantity only to Brazilians themselves. This year, it's unclear how many Americans bought tickets throughout the entire tournament, but StubHub said that 89 percent of its tickets to the final game were purchased by Americans. In this vein, the real test of soccer's popularity could come in 2018, when the men's World Cup will take place in Russia. Plenty of people could make a weekend trip across the border into Canada, but how many will be willing to travel all the way to Russia?
As it turns out, Sunday night's World Cup win could mean as much for the sport as it does for our team. Certainly, an increasing number of Americans are paying attention. Maybe, we'll start calling it football next.
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