NEW YORK -- World Cup television viewership rose 41 percent over four years ago for English-language telecasts in the United States, with Spain's 1-0 overtime victory over the Netherlands setting a record for a men's soccer game.
Sunday's game in Johannesburg, which gave the Spanish their first World Cup title, was seen by 15,545,000 viewers on ABC, according to fast national ratings. The previous high was 14,863,000 viewers for the United States' 2-1 overtime loss to Ghana in the second round on June 26.
An additional 8,821,000 million viewers watched Spanish-language coverage Sunday on Univision, according to Nielsen Media Research, bringing the total to nearly 24.4 million.
ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 averaged a 2.1 rating, 2,288,000 households and 3,261,000 viewers for the 64 World Cup games. The rating was up 31 percent from a 1.6 four years ago, while households increased 32 percent from 1,735,000 and viewers rose from 2,316,000.
The increases had been higher while the U.S. remained in the tournament. Through the first 50 games, the rating was up 48 percent, households increased 54 percent and viewers rose 60 percent.
"We always expected that the presence of the U.S. team would provide us with these big spikes," John Skipper, ESPN's executive vice president of content, said Monday. "The TV rating is only a little piece of the story. One of every three people watched on something other than the television at their home, either watched in a bar, or on their phone, or in their office on a computer."
ESPN paid FIFA $100 million for rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, while Univision spent $325 million. With the next tournament scheduled for Brazil, where most of the host cities are only one hour ahead of EDT, the possibility of some prime-time telecasts could boost ratings again. South Africa is six hours ahead of EDT.
FIFA has not yet set 2014 game times.
"We do know that we have the advantage of the time zone and we will get prime time games, so we have every confidence that we will see another fairly significant ratings increase in '14," Skipper said.
And looking ahead, the 2022 tournament could be in the United States. FIFA's executive committee will vote Dec. 2 on the 2018 and '22 sites, and while the first is expected to go to a European nation, the U.S. is favored for 2022.
The only World Cup game with more U.S. English-language viewers than for Spain's win Sunday was the 1999 women's final at the Rose Bowl, when the U.S. beat China, a game seen in 11,307,000 households and by 17,975,000 people.
Sunday's match received an 8.1 rating on ABC, up 6 percent from the 7.7 for Italy's penalty-kicks win over France in the 2006 final. This was the fourth-highest rating for a men's World Cup game behind Brazil's penalty-kicks victory over Italy in the 1994 final at the Rose Bowl (9.5), Brazil's second-round victory over the U.S. in 1994 (9.3) and this year's Ghana-U.S. match (8.5).
The U.S.-Ghana game narrowly edged the final in households, 9,455,000 to 9,389,000.
Miami-Fort Lauderdale finished with the highest average tournament rating on ABC/ESPN at 3.9, followed by New York and Washington (3.6), and San Diego and San Francisco (3.5).
Viewership for the final on Univision was up 49 percent from 5,903,000 for 2006. Sunday's game was the third most-watched program on U.S. Spanish-language TV, trailing Argentina's win over Mexico on June 27 (9,405,000) and the finale of the novella "Destilando Amor [Essence of Love]" on Dec. 3, 2007 (9,018,000).
Univision averaged 2,624,000 viewers for the tournament, up 17 percent, and 1,625,000 households, an increase of 11 percent.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press