PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Considering the way U.S. viewers watched the group stage of the World Cup this year, FIFA might want to consider charging NFL-style broadcast fees the next time it negotiates with networks like Fox and Comcast's (CMCSA - Get Report) Telemundo.
Through 32 matches, World Cup games averaged 4.3 million viewers on ESPN -- up 50% from the nearly 2.9 million for matches in the 2010 World Cup. For Univision, an average of 3.4 million watching the World Cup on the network through the first 32 matches was up from 2.3 million in 2010. That's a combined 7.7 million viewers, which is higher than NBC draws for the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Final and bigger than the average audience for regular season NHL games (500,000), Major League Baseball games (630,000) and National Basketball Association matchups (1.4 million). This World Cup's viewership lags only the National Football League's regular season and the NFL, NBA and MLB title games, but it hasn't even reached the elimination stages yet.
Nor does it dig into the audience for the U.S. national team's matches. The 15.9 million U.S. viewers who tuned in to both ESPN and Univision for the a 2-1 U.S. win over Ghana in the first U.S. match of the World Cup's group stage was a bigger audience than 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. The 24.7 million U.S. viewers who watched a heartbreaking U.S. draw against Portugal in the U.S. team's second matchup made it the single most-watched soccer match of any kind in U.S. television history -- ahead of the 24 million who watched the World Cup final back in 2010.
The ESPN broadcast alone, at 18.2 million viewers, outdrew the deciding Game 5 of this year's NBA Finals (18 million). The combined ESPN and Univision telecasts of the U.S.-Portugal match were bigger than the audiences for college football's title game (26.4 million), the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament title game (21.2 million), the horse racing Triple Crown attempt at the Belmont Stakes (20.4 million) and the Rose Bowl (18.6M). Only NBC broadcasts from the Winter Olympics and network broadcasts of NFL playoff games and the Super Bowl ranked higher.
Just for some perspective, the 18.2 million viewers ESPN drew for that match is a bigger audience than it has drawn for all but four of its Monday Night Football broadcasts: Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings in 2009 (21.8 million), New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints in 2010 (21.4 million), Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons in 2010 (19.1 million) and Eagles/Cowboys in 2008 (18.6 million). ESPN is playing $1.9 billion a year for the rights to Monday Night Football. Fox and Telemundo, which are taking over World Cup broadcasting duties from ABC, ESPN and Univision in 2018 and 2022 -- are paying $1.25 billion for both events combined.