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What World Cup Ratings Say About U.S. Soccer

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The U.S. soccer audience was already growing by the time the national team took the pitch against Ghana. Having the home play its first match certainly didn't hurt. The prospects for a growing domestic audience are bolstering the fortunes of a handful of leading media companies that have recently gotten into the game. Those include ESPN (owned by a joint venture between Disney (DIS - Get Report) and Hearst) Fox (FOXA - Get Report) and Telemundo (owned by Comcast (CMCSA - Get Report)).

According to Nielsen, roughly 15.9 million people tuned in to watch goals from Clint Dempsey and John Brooks give the U.S. the edge it needed in a tough 2-1 win against Ghana. It was the first win against the Black Stars by the U.S. side since being eliminated by Ghana in the second round in 2010, which followed a first-round loss to the same squad in 2006 to boot the U.S. out of that year's tournament.

It's also a huge leap forward for U.S. soccer viewership. The most-watched first-round matchup in U.S. history is still its 1-1 draw with England to open the 2010 World Cup. However, that aired on network television on ABC to a far broader audience. To put this year's U.S. win in perspective, the 11.1 million who watched on ESPN alone easily trumps the 6.6 million viewers who watched the loss to Ghana in 2006 on ESPN and Univision combined. It also far exceeds the 6.16 million ESPN drew for an opening round match between the U.S. and Algeria in 2010 -- which was its previous record for a U.S. national team broadcast.

The 16 million U.S. viewers who watched in total aren't too far removed from the 19.4 million who saw the U.S. lose to Ghana in the second round back in 2010, either. U.S. soccer has reached the point where its first-round matches are as worthy of home viewers' time as the matches they play after they've advanced. Considering that audience in 2010 was larger than the average drawn by the NBA Finals that year and the audience of 18.3 million who watched the gold-medal men's ice hockey game between the U.S. and Canada in Vancouver, that's no small feat.

Already, that 15.9 million beats the 6 million NBC drew for the deciding Game 5 of the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Final, the 15.5 million viewers ABC averaged for this year's NBA Finals, the 14.9 million Fox averaged for the 2013 World Series and the 10.2 million that CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV averaged for this year's NCAA college basketball March Madness broadcasts. Granted, it's still well below the peak viewership of any of those last three events, but there's still a lot of World Cup to be played.

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