Sunday afternoon’s Euro 2008 final between Spain and Germany on ABC was watched by 2.4 million overnight households according to numbers announced by Nielsen Media Research. That gives the broadcast a 3.1 overnight rating based on the 77 million households in America which make up the overnight numbers. That number is a little more than double the 1.5 overnight rating ABC got for its broadcast of the Netherlands v Russia quarterfinal last weekend.
So, first, a quick dose of reality; the number obviously pales in comparison to the 8.6 overnight rating the network got for the 2006 World Cup final between France and Italy. That’s not a surprise given the higher profile of the World Cup, but it shows there were a considerable number of casual sports viewers who have watched soccer and did not tune in. Also, that number is certain to go down once the last batch of households with televisions, mostly in rural areas, are counted up later in the week. For example, the Netherlands-Russia match saw a 20% drop in its rating once these were added, going from 1.5 to 1.2. Assuming a similar percentage drop for this match would put the final rating down to around 2.5.
However, that number also gives ESPN and owner Disney a reason to smile. At 2.5, ABC’s performance for the Euro 2008 final would equal the national rating picked up by Univision for its American broadcast of another continental championship: last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup final between the United States and Mexico. What this shows is that there is a noteworthy, if smaller, audience on American television for big event international soccer outside the World Cup, both with and without local teams to drive it.
So, what does ESPN do now? Well, while these results are good, it’d be hard to justify using them for the purpose of adding European league soccer, given they are far more dragged out events (months instead of weeks) and can’t guarantee big star affairs every single time. On top of that, most of the European leagues already have deals for this season tied up. And for next season, the only contracts due to run out in the US are for Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga. It’d be hard to capitalize on the momentum of this tournament without any big leagues coming straight away to the network.
What ESPN could do next, however, is try to solidify their position as the home of big event international soccer. The network already has the rights to next year’s Confederations Cup and the 2010 World Cup. 2011 could see the network try to pick up the Gold Cup or Copa America, either of which offer English and Spanish language possibilities, and then ESPN would finish the cycle by getting Euro 2012. Another move might see ESPN expand its portfolio when it comes to online broadcast rights through ESPN360. They already have the online rights to Serie A and the Russian Premier League, and most American broadcasters have done little in this area to make use of those rights. The other networks might be receptive to parting with their online rights to pick up some additional cash. ESPN360 was a major success during the tournament, with eight of it’s 10 most watched single events being Euro 2008 matches, and it’s an area they can try to expand on right away.
Wherever it goes from here, Euro 2008 represents a step forward for soccer on ESPN, and is a moment worth celebrating. Now fans will have to wait and see for what the network’s next step ahead is going to be.