The 2010 World Cup Final set a new record for the most watched soccer game in U.S. history Sunday when 24.3 million people watched the Spain versus Netherlands game on ABC and Univision, according to Nielsen.

Univision drew 8.821 million viewers, while ABC drew 15.45 million viewers according to Nielsen fast-nationals.

The 2010 World Cup set another record in the United States by being the most-viewed World Cup ever on English-language TV. The 64-match World Cup averaged a 2.1 U.S. rating and 3.261 million viewers on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, up 31% in ratings and 41% in viewership from 2006 (1.6, 2.316 mil). Average viewing numbers for Univision are not yet available, but in comparison to viewing audiences for other sports, ESPN averaged 4.596 million viewers for the 2010 NBA Playoffs (ABC averaged 10.970 million for its 16-game coverage), and 4.311 million for its coverage of 2009-10 college football bowl games (ABC averaged 22.179 million for its three games).

“The 2010 FIFA World Cup was an overwhelming success for ESPN,” said John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president, content. “We experienced record viewership across multiple platforms, including television, broadband, online and ESPN Audio, and it was evident from the overwhelmingly positive reaction just how much fans were drawn to the spectacle of this global sports event. We are already looking ahead with great anticipation to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.”

For Univision, this marks the most-viewed World Cup Final ever on the network and the second-most viewed World Cup match – behind Mexico/Argentina on June 27 (9.405 mil). Overall, the World Cup Final match ranks as the third-most viewed for any television program in Univision history.

UPDATE: Univision averaged 2.374 million viewers for coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, up 15% from 2006 and the highest average ever for the World Cup on the network.

How does the TV viewing audience for the 2010 World Cup Final compare to previous records, other countries and other sports? Let’s put this into perspective:

  • The previous record in the United States for the most watched soccer game on television was the 19.4 million viewers who watched the U.S. versus Ghana on the same networks earlier during the 2010 World Cup, followed by the 1994 World Cup Final (staged in the United States), which drew 18.1 million viewers on ABC and Univision. The final of the Women’s World Cup in 1999 between the United States and China drew 18 million on ABC.
  • The 24.3 million viewers marks the fourth-largest audience for any sporting event in 2010 (excludes NFL and primetime Olympic telecasts). Only the USA/Canada Olympic Hockey Gold Medal Game (27.600 mil), Game 7 of the Celtics/Lakers NBA Finals (28.203 mil) and the BCS National Championship Game (30.776 mil) drew more viewers.
  • The combined audience drew more viewers than every single Major League Baseball game since 2004 and every single college basketball game since 1999.
  • In the United Kingdom, an average of 18.4 million viewers watched the 2010 World Cup Final on BBC and ITV combined.
  • Spain registered its highest ever TV audience as 15.6 million — an 85.9% audience share.
  • In Holland 8.5 million viewers — a 90.6% share — watched the game.
  • According to FIFA, a worldwide television audience of more than 700 million people watched the final.

Without a doubt, the 2010 World Cup Final is a landmark moment in the history of soccer in the United States. If anyone doubted whether soccer was growing in popularity in this country, then these are the numbers to prove them wrong.

If the United States had progressed farther in the tournament, one can only imagine how much higher the TV viewing audience would have been. Still, these are incredible numbers and full credit needs to go to ESPN, ABC, Univision and you, the soccer fans, for making the 2010 World Cup the most successful soccer tournament in US history.