The thrilling United States-Portugal match Sunday ended in a 2-2, but in the aftermath there is one obvious winner: ESPN.
According to Nielsen, the match is the most-viewed ever in the United States across any television network, drawing 9.6 household rating and averaging 18.22 million viewers.
It was the most-viewed program -- excluding the NFL and college football -- in ESPN's history.
The viewership surpassed that of the 1999 women's World Cup final between the United States and China. That match, won by the US in a shootout, averaged 17.98 viewers on ABC. That match remains the highest-rated soccer match overall (11.4 HH) in the US.
The highest-rated men's match previously was the 1994 World Cup final between Italy and Brazil, which drew a 9.5.
There was an enormous New England viewership for the match. Boston (11.5) was fourth, Hartford/New Haven (11.3) fifth, and Providence (11.2) sixth. Washington, DC led all markets with a 13.3 rating
Boston, Hartford/New Haven, and Providence were among 18 markets that recorded a record overnight rating for a World Cup match on ESPN or ESPN 2.
Washington, DC, continues to lead all markets for matches on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC through the first 32 games with a 5.0 average rating. New York (4.3) is second, followed by San Francisco (4.1), Orlando (3.8), Los Angeles (3.7), Hartford/New Haven (3.7), Atlanta (3.6), San Diego (3.5), Boston (3.5), West Palm Beach (3.5) and Richmond (3.5).
Univision got 6.5 million viewers for the match, making it the most-watched match ever on that network. So the total viewership, combined with ESPN, is about 24.7 million -- and that doesn't include those who watched in bars and restaurants, since Nielsen does not measure them.
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Given the interest locally and all that's at stake, WEEI 93.7 made a smart move in deciding to carry Thursday's US-Germany match beginning at noon. The Middays With MFB program will air from 10 a.m.-noon, ceding the last two hours of the show for the showdown that will determine whether the US advances.
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One non-soccer media note: NESN Live, a nightly "interactive and opinion-based sports news show,'' as the network describes it, debuts tonight at 5:30. It is hosted by Elle Duncan and Sarah Davis.