The Revolution is being televised. Despite almost constant hostility from significant elements of the mainstream media (including basketball announcers on ESPN who it seem deliberately mispronounce the names of football teams and players during the lead into MLS or National Team matches) Wednesday’s US-Mexico match shattered all sorts of record. In short a lot of eyes focused on a medium sized Ohio town this past Wednesday.
Jack Bell from the GOAL! blog at the NY Times broke the news:
ESPN and Univision both set records for viewership during Wednesday night’s United States-Mexico World Cup qualifying match in Columbus, Ohio.
The match, won by the United States, was seen in an average of 794,800 homes (1.2 million viewers) on ESPN2. It was the most-watched World Cup qualifier among the 26 matches ESPN2 has carried over the years. ESPN2 showed the game from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern. In addition, the network’s Spanish-language channel, ESPN Deportes, 192,000 viewers for its pregame show and 223,000 for its postgame edition.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the game on Univision, the Spanish-language network was seen in part or in its entirety by 10.7 million viewers and was watched by more people than any other sporting event in the history of Spanish-language television, the network said in a news release. Bear in mind that Univision, in addition to being carried by many cable systems, is also available over the air, while ESPN2 is a cable-only channel.
Beyond the Hispanic market, Univision was the No. 1 destination during the match’s two-hour time period among adults and men 18 to 49 years old in Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, San Francisco and Sacramento; and in all households in Los Angeles, Houston and Phoenix.
The game also exceeded the viewership of all first-run England-language prime time shows (such as “American Idol,” “Lost,” “Law & Order” and CSI: New York”) among men 18-49 in Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Phoenix and Dallas.
Given the failure of MLS on both ESPN and Univision owned channels this news comes as a major relief. Univision owns the rights to many FMF games in the US, but not the Mexican National Team, whose US rights are owned by Telemundo. The US National Team has continued to draw much stronger viewership even for friendlies than MLS draws even for playoff matches, a source confirmed to me, Friday. For example the source mentioned that the friendly in Glendale Arizona in February 2007 between the US and Mexico was ESPN2 highest rated prime time weekday program in the first quarter of that year.
This game was massive, no doubt. But the continued high viewership numbers for national team games versus any MLS telecast has much to do with the psyche of the American public. Jingoism has returned stateside since 9/11 in a way not seen since the end of the Cold War. Football, the ultimate international sporting event appeals to this raw American instinct on the national team level and not the MLS level.
For Mexican fans, the FMF continues to be the center of weekly football life, but much like in England, the national team brings out a casual fan who doesn’t watch football every weekend, and much like in England, these Mexican fans simply assume their nation is the best in the world, or at the very least the best in the region.
All the elements of made for TV viewing were found on Wednesday night. Mexico vs USA is the ultimate CONCACAF derby match but also now a field day for advertisers and television executives.