The United States soccer team may not have won the Women's World Cup, but Sunday's championship game was pure gold for ESPN. Japan's stunning victory over the favored Americans — coming from behind twice before nailing the title in a penalty shootout — averaged 13.46 million viewers, making it the most-watched soccer telecast (men's or women's) in the network's history. (It's also the sixth most-watched cablecast of 2011 across all networks.)
ESPN's previous soccer record was the United States' men's victory over Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, which had 6.16 million last June. TV's all-time soccer record in the U.S. remains the iconic 1999 Women's World Cup championship, with17.98 million watching on ABC as the American's defeated China in a riveting penalty-kick shootout
After a slow start, ESPN's ratings for the 2011 Women's World Cup built over the last week, starting with the Americans' stirring win over Brazil last Sunday in the quarterfinals, with 3.89 million tuning in. Then, last Wednesday, the U.S. victory over France in the semifinals was seen by 3.35 million, an all-time record for a weekday Women's World Cup game on ESPN.
United States stars Abby Wambach and Hope Solo will appear on Late Show With David Letterman tomorrow to talk about their amazing run in Germany (July 19, 11:35 p.m./ET, CBS).