As Christopher Harris reported here at World Soccer Talk, the final ratings for Euro 2016 were, much like the quality of play, decent but not spectacular. Copa América Centenario, thanks to Univision’s reach and the USMNT’s run, captured a slightly bigger audience. But by putting the numbers for the two tournaments into context, we can see just how far the sport has come in this country.
With the ability to now stream every match, whether scarfing a slice on Coney Island or sipping a cortadito on South Beach while chasing Pikachu on our phones, it’s easy to forget just how abominable soccer coverage here once was. As with World Soccer Talk’s essential history of Premier League TV availability, remembering what American soccer coverage was like reminds us of how the sport’s slide into the mainstream was a monumental struggle.
“Given the ratings, I don’t think anyone will go for it,” Or A Brief History of World Cup, Euro, and Copa América Coverage on American TV
- The World Cup:
The World Cup final was first fully broadcast in the US in 1966, 12 years after Europeans first got the competition beamed into their living rooms. NBC aired England’s thrilling win over West Germany on a same-day tape delay using the BBC’s black-and-white feed. NBC’s success with the broadcast “was the final jolt” in forming a modern professional American soccer league, said former Cosmos GM and NASL Commissioner Clive Toye in 1985.
Despite good numbers, NBC declined to do it again in 1970. Thankfully, ABC stepped in to show the Italy-Brazil final from Mexico, and in glorious color to boot. But the bad news was that ABC waited until Christmas, six months after Brazil won, to show it as part of a “Wide World of Sports” episode! Sadly, in 1974, the only network viewing option was once again stale highlights as CBS crammed bits of the spectacular West Germany-Netherlands final into its “Sports Spectacular” show.
All three networks passed on Argentina ‘78. In stepped the Spanish International Network, Univision’s precursor, to broadcast the action to both Spanish-speakers and those whose Español never got better than the Beastie Boys’ “sat across from a man reading El Diario, riding the train down from the El Barrio.” Throughout the dark ages, savvy soccer supporters would angle their antennas to get SIN, but back then it was only available in a handful of major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.