Largest soccer aud in 16 years; Univision scores with Mexico opener

Roughly 13 million tuned in to ABC on Saturday for the much-anticipated U.S.-England match of soccer’s FIFA World Cup — the largest aud for a first-round game since 1994. It’s the biggest crowd for the United States men’s national team in those 16 years.

Spanish-language broadcaster Univision also aired the game, which ended in a 1-1 tie, but its preliminary Nielsen figures weren’t available Sunday.

The three-hour telecast from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. ET (including an hour of pre-match coverage) averaged 10.8 million viewers, according to preliminary Nielsen nationals, making it the fifth highest-rated game in the U.S. behind three World Cup finals (including the 1999 women’s championship) and a third round game (U.S.-Brazil) in 1994.

Through five matches, ESPN and ABC were averaging 4.94 million viewers — more than doubling the 2.38 million at the same point in 2006. ESPN’s most-watched game was Saturday’s Argentina-Nigeria matchup (3.73 million viewers).

ESPN and its family of networks (including ABC) is broadcasting all 64 Cup games live and in HD; similarly, Univision and its sister net TeleFutura are providing every game to the Spanish-language audience in the States. Univision reported strong numbers for its opening-day coverage of the Mexico-South Africa match on Friday morning, which drew 5.4 million viewers to top the English-language telecast on ESPN (2.6 million). Univision’s average for the day (4 million) nearly doubled what it drew on the opening day of the 2006 World Cup, when Mexico didn’t play.

In other sports ratings news, ABC’s coverage of the NBA Finals was poised for more big numbers after the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday to ensure at least a sixth game in the best-of-seven series on Tuesday.

Ratings for Sunday’s Game 5 will be available today, but last Thursday’s contest averaged a 6.6 rating/21 share in adults 18-49 and a series-best 16.37 million viewers overall. The series continues to track as the top-rated NBA Finals since 2004 (Lakers-Detroit Pistons).

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