Soccer in general and the United States men’s national team specifically captured the nation’s imagination like at no other point during its mini-run through the 2014 World Cup.
One example of that? The television ratings. Or, more to the point, the television ratings relative to college football.
The overnight Nielsen ratings for Tuesday’s USA-Belgium match — the good guys were knocked out and kept from just their second-ever quarterfinals appearance — was a 9.6. According to Variety.com, it was the highest-rated World Cup game ever broadcast on ESPN. Additionally, the website wrote that “[t]he only World Cup matches to ever rate higher on English-language television were on ABC: a 12.8 for the 1994 final between Brazil and Italy and a 10.4 for USA-Brazil in that tournament’s second round.”
As al.com points out, however, the USA-Belgium ratings were higher than all but two college football games during the 2013 season: the Auburn-Florida State BCS title game (14.8) and the Michigan State-Stanford Rose Bowl (10.2).
Other examples of this last United States World Cup game trumping college football ratings include the Alabama-Oklahoma Sugar Bowl (9.3) and the Auburn-Missouri SEC championship game (8.6). In the regular season, the ballyhooed Alabama-Texas A&M rematch (8.5) and the thrilling Alabama-Auburn Iron Bowl matchup (8.2) both lagged behind yesterday’s World Cup.
These ratings certainly don’t mean that soccer has surpassed college football in popularity. Far from it, in fact. It is, however, interesting to think about how long this surge in popularity will last — and if it will have any impact on college football by way of soccer siphoning off young talent, especially as concerns over the safety of the sport of football in general continues to grow.