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Thursday, June 24, 2010
U.S-Algeria sets record for viewers

ESPN.com news services

The United States soccer team's dramatic victory over Algeria was followed by a record number of people online and on mobile devices.

ESPN said 1.1 million people watched at least some of the USA's 1-0 win as it was streamed on ESPN3.com Wednesday. The match, which was also watched on ESPN by 6.2 million people, lasted from 10 a.m. to noon ET, during working hours for most of the United States.

The network says it was the biggest online audience for a sporting event, beating the Duke-Butler NCAA championship basketball game on a Monday night from earlier this year.

The match averaged 328,000 viewers per minute in ESPN's live online coverage. When combined with the simultaneous England vs. Slovenia game, ESPN3.com hit its peak point of viewing at around 11:30 a.m. ET when 513,000 viewers were watching each minute.

The Americans' thrilling win that put them atop Group C was seen by 4.5 million homes -- the most households for soccer in ESPN's history.

Another huge audience is expected for Saturday's second-round game against Ghana, which starts at 2:30 p.m. EDT on ABC. Former President Bill Clinton, who congratulated players in the locker room after the Algeria win, rearranged his schedule to stick around for the Ghana game.

The U.S. team moved on to the World Cup's final 16 when Landon Donovan scored a goal with about two minutes to spare.

The World Cup match from South Africa was a throwback to a time when not all major sporting events happened during television's prime-time. Only an older generation remembers listening to World Series games on transistor radios at work or school.

President Barack Obama, when he called the U.S. team to congratulate it, said he was meeting with Gen. David Petraeus at the time of the goal, and could hear the rest of the West Wing erupt in cheers.

The same scene was repeated in workplaces and bars after a match of mounting tension and frustration was capped when Landon Donovan scored a goal with about two minutes to spare, saving the U.S. team from elimination.

It's also part of a remarkable week in U.S. sports that included the most-watched NBA game in 12 years, and an epic Wimbledon match between two unknown men that stretched to three days and earned ESPN its second best Wimbledon ratings since it began covering the tournament in 2003. Oh, and the U.S. Open golf tournament.

"Multitasking is in full force in the U.S.," said George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports. "This just shows the power of sports. When you have great, live sporting events that capture the imagination of the American public, people want to see it regardless of what time of day it's on."

The television audience size for Wednesday's soccer game was impressive enough. It would have been enough to land the game in last week's prime-time Nielsen Co. top 10 -- highly unusual for a weekday morning. Univision's telecast of that game added 2.4 million viewers for an overall ESPN-Univision viewership of 8.6 million viewers.

At one point, 1.7 million people were logged on to the general ESPN.com website to check score updates and other news. Some 650,000 people watched the game on mobile devices. Both are figures that haven't been reached before, ESPN said.

Viewership for the first three U.S. games at the World Cup is up 68 percent compared to the first three U.S. games in 2006, Nielsen said.

Because the United States' next game, against Ghana, will take place on Saturday and shown on the ABC broadcast network, viewership is likely to climb even more.

"There's a tremendous buzz and we expect that buzz to continue throughout the tournament," Bodenheimer said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.