Update, June 17: Includes ratings from Monday's U.S.-Ghana match and updated weekend ratings.
PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) — Wave goodbye to LeBron James, Manu Ginobli, Chris Bosh, Kawhi Leonard and the NBA Finals, U.S. sports fans: They were all that was standing between you and the World Cup.
After the first weekend of World Cup play, it's clear that only the National Basketball Association holds a larger place in the heart of U.S. fans at this time of year. And that was only before the U.S. Men's National Team kicked off group play against Ghana.
Monday's matchup between the U.S. and the team that drove it out of the World Cup twice in the last eight years not only ended in a much-needed win over Ghana, but it resulted in a 7.0 rating and 3.7 million audience for ESPN. Throw in another 3.8 million who watched on Univision and you have the second-largest audience for a U.S. opening-round match in history -- and only because the U.S. draw against England in 2010 aired on a Saturday on network television (ABC). It's also only part of the story.
On Thursday, the 2014 World Cup had the grave misfortune of hosting its opening match on the same night as Game 4 of the NBA Finals. At 9 p.m. Eastern and for much of the rest of the night, ABC averaged 12.6 million viewers for its NBA title matchup. Earlier in the day, ESPN managed just 4.04 million viewers for host nation Brazil's opening match against Croatia. That's still 49% greater than its audience for the 2010 World Cup and a bigger crowd than any World Cup opener in the past 20 years.
Oh, and it's not even close to the match's entire U.S. audience. Univision has the $325 million Spanish-language rights to this year's World Cup and averaged 5.1 million viewers for that same Brazil-Croatia matchup. Throughout the weekend, Univision saw a World Cup crowd roughly 7% larger than that of ESPN, ESPN2. On Thursday, however, it drew nearly triple the amount of viewers as NBC did with the early rounds of golf's U.S. Open (which averaged 1.87 million viewers at 6 p.m. Eastern). Between both ESPN and Univision, roughly 9.14 million fans watched the World Cup's opening match, nearly doubling the 5.5 million viewership of the second most-watched prime-time show on Thursday night — CBS' Two and A Half Men.
It's not incredibly shocking that Univision's numbers would be that impressive. Yes, Nielsen notes that the 34% Spanish-speaking audience for Major League Soccer is the largest percentage of any major U.S. sports — larger than the 8% share of National Football League viewers, the 9% share of baseball viewers and the 12% stake of all basketball audiences. But the fact Univision is available free via antenna in most major markets — compared with ESPN and ESPN2, which account for more than $6 of the average monthly cable or satellite bill — certainly helps its cause as well.