This summer was billed by many as the Summer of Soccer with two of the three biggest soccer tournaments in the world being played concurrently: the Copa America Centenario (played in the United States) and UEFA Euro 2016. Both were a massive success for the American soccer public and scored big time ratings.
The recently concluded Euro 2016 (basically a European conference tournament) was carried on ESPN and ran from June 10 to July 10 and was played in France. Portugal and their superstar Cristiano Ronaldo were eventual champions, beating France in the final. The ratings for ESPN’s coverage were not nearly as good as they were for the World Cup two years ago, but were still fantastic. A total of 50,867,000 people watched the 51 games which averages out to 997,392 viewers per game. That’s a fantastic number given that most of the games were played either early in the morning or in the early afternoon, hours during which most people are at work. One thing that did hurt the ratings of a few of the game was that the final games in each group kicked off simultaneously, thereby hurting the ratings for the less appealing matchups such as Poland vs. Ukraine or Czech Republic vs. Turkey. This highest rated game was the final between France and Portugal, drawing 4,538,000 viewers while the lowest rated was the aforementioned Poland/Ukraine matchup that drew a paltry 180,000 (in fairness it was going up against reigning world champions Germany taking on Northern Ireland, which drew 624,000).
The other big soccer tournament going on was the Copa America Centenario (basically a South American conference tournament with a few North American guests) was carried in English on the networks of Fox Sports and was played in the United States and ran from June 3 to June 26. Chile won the tournament by beating Argentina and superstar Lionel Messi in the final. Not only did the ratings break most soccer ratings records for Fox, but it was the highest attended Copa America ever, drawing a total of 1,483,855 for an average of 46,730 per game, with several NFL stadiums being regularly sold out. Fox’s ratings were spectacular and were helped considerably because of a deep run by the USA squad that made it to the semi-finals. All told 31,305,000* people watched on Fox’s various networks, for an average viewing audience of 1,009,839. USA games had an average attendance of 50,891 and an average English language viewership of 2,048,167. Fox’s highest rated game was the Chile/Argentina final which drew 2,979,000 people and the lowest rated game was the Haiti/Peru game that aired on FS2 and drew a measly 138,000 viewers.
The biggest winner of the Summer of Soccer was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Spanish language networks of Univision. An astounding 100,750,000 people watched the tournament across their various networks for an average of 3,148,438 people per game. The fact that Mexico made it to the quarterfinals (before getting walloped 7-1 by Chile) was a big boost, but USA games also drew very well. Univision’s highest rated game was the final which drew 6,800,000 viewers and the lowest rated game was Chile/Bolivia which drew 1,400,000 viewers.
The month and a half of soccer has led to a boost in both attendance and TV viewership for Major League Soccer, though it is admittedly just a small boost. Prior to the start of the Copa America, MLS was averaging 21,108 at each game while averaging 236,583 per game on TV (ESPN and Fox Sports broadcast MLS games). Since MLS resumed play after the group stage of the Copa America, the TV ratings have risen to 315,556 per game while attendance has gone up to 23,019 per game. Not a vast improvement, but improvement nonetheless.
While the two biggest tournaments of the year are over, the Summer of Soccer carries on. Many top European clubs are coming over to the US for preseason exhibition games. MLS continues to play. And at the beginning of August, Olympic soccer fires up in Brazil, with the hosts looking for their first ever Olympic Gold Medal in soccer, and the USA Women’s Team looking for their fourth consecutive gold. All of this just goes to show that, despite its detractors, soccer in the US is doing better than ever and isn’t going anywhere.
*For whatever reason, Fox Sports has not released the number for the Chile/Bolivia game that aired on FOX on Friday, June 10.