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As World Cup Popularity Grows, So Does U.S. Interest In Soccer

Casual sports fans likely associate Thursday’s start of the World Cup as the entirety of soccer in the United States, but in fact viewer and advertiser interest in the overall game has increased in recent years.

Since the broadcast of the last World Cup in 2010, the number of people over 18 who have attended a major soccer match has nearly doubled, according to Nielsen, rising 8%. Over that same period, the number of Americans who have watched, attended or listened to a major soccer match has increased by 32%

The number of TV outlets covering the sport has also risen.  In 2010, 11 networks aired over 2,600 telecasts of soccer events, Nielsen said. By the end of 2013, 21 networks aired about 3,890 soccer event telecasts. The amount of programming hours devoted to soccer over that time rose 43%.

TV viewership in the U.S. was at record levels for the 2010 World Cup, with the average tune-in for live games on ESPN (3.2 million) up about 40% from 2006. The 15.544 million viewers for ABC’s coverage of the Spain-Netherlands final is the largest audience ever for a World Cup contest in the States — and ESPN Research estimates the total swelling to above 18 million if out-of-home viewing is included.

An estimated 111.6 million U.S. viewers watched at least six minutes of the 2010 World Cup on English or Spanish-language networks, according to a Nielsen analysis. The figure is a 22% increase from the reach of 91.4 million U.S. viewers during the 2006 World Cup.

The highest-rated top-25 markets in the U.S. in 2010 were Miami, New York and Washington D.C.

This year, Univision and its Univision Deportes Network will air live coverage of 56 of the tourney’s games, while sister outlets  UniMás and Galavisión will air eight live games and special programming during the month-long tournament. Galavisión will also broadcast the best match of the day in primetime in a 60 minute format. Comcast will make every 2014 FIFA World Cup match available in Spanish via the company’s on-demand services. innovation. ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will air all 64 matches live and in high definition. In all, the three Walt Disney-owned networks will air more than 290 hours of original programming  around the World Cup tournament, compared with 240 in 2010. Fusion, the emerging cable network owned jointly by Univision and ABC News, will devote an hour in primetime every night during the event to coverage of the games and the cultural ripples it creates in Brazil.

Total advertising spend has moved in tandem. Nielsen estimates total television advertising spent for soccer events programming in 2010 was about $265 million. By 2013, it jumped 43% to $378 million.

And the World Cup itself has seen its power among advertisers grow. The average cost of a 30-second ad during the 2006 World Cup Final was $129,000. In 2013, the average cost of a 30-second ad during the 2010 World Cup Final was $389,000. That number is still significantly less than the cost of a 30-second ad in the Super Bowl, which hovered around $4 million in Fox’s 2014 telecast of the game.

Rick Kissell contributed to this report.

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