WINNIPEG, Manitoba - The United States' World Cup-opening 3-1 win over Australia drew a combined audience of over 3.5 million viewers on Fox Sports 1 and NBC Universo, according to Nielsen data published Tuesday afternoon. That easily beat the previous record for any Women's World Cup group stage game: 2.457 million for the historic U.S.-Denmark contest at Giants Stadium that opened the American run in 1999.
Fox Sports 1's coverage Monday night attracted 3.3 million viewers, a 208 percent increase over ESPN's viewership for the Americans' opening game of the 2011 World Cup.
That tournament took place in Germany, which meant that games were played in the late morning and early afternoon on the U.S. east coast. This year's games in Canada kick off in prime time. Still, a jump of that size will make Fox executives happy as they begin a 12-year contract broadcasting a range of FIFA soccer tournaments.
NBC Universo, a Comcast-owned cable channel affiliated with the Telemundo broadcast network, drew 203,000 viewers to its Spanish-language broadcast.
In the Philadelphia region, Fox Sports 1's broadcast drew a 3.0 local ratings during the game window, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. That tied it (with WWE wrestling, in case you're wondering) for the most-watched program on any cable channel in its time slot, according to Nielsen data. The only program on over-the-air networks that drew a bigger audience was ABC's The Bachelorette.
Fox's full broadcast window drew a 2.8 rating locally. Philadelphia was the No. 11-ranked local market out of Nielsen's 56 markets nationwide. No. 10 Los Angeles drew a 2.81.
(I bet you can make up a 0.01 ratings point difference on Friday night, folks. Come on.)
Philadelphia was one of 38 markets in which the U.S.-Australia game beat Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, aired at the same hour on NBCSN. The Lightning-Blackhawks contest drew more overall viewers, 3.896 million. I suspect that was largely due to the Blackhawks' fan base in the huge Chicago market.
As for other World Cup games, Saturday's Canada-China game that kicked off the tournament drew 719,000 viewers nationwide on Fox Sports 1 and 479,000 on Telemundo. In Canada, the contest attracted 1.8 million viewers combined to the English-language broadcast on CTV and TSN and the French-language broadcast on RDS.
Monday night's Japan-Switzerland game on Fox Sports 1 drew 861,000 viewers. The two games that have aired on Fox Sports 2 so far - Netherlands vs. New Zealand and Cameroon-Ecuador - drew 240,000 and 83,000 viewers respectively.
Audiences for Sunday and Monday's games on Fox's over-the-air network are not yet available.
From big numbers to small numbers
During the first three days of the Women's World Cup, those TV viewers saw healthy crowds at games in Edmonton, Ottawa, Vancouver and Winnipeg. Tuesday's contests in Moncton and Montreal, however, were played before swaths of empty seats.
Moncton had to deal with rain for much of the afternoon at a stadium without any covering over the stands. The mid-day, mid-week kickoff times likely didn't help either.
But it was still impossible to avoid noticing the less-than-stellar crowds for France's 1-0 win over England, one of the marquee contests of the group stage, and the 1-1 tie between Colombia-Mexico after it.
(Which Mexico should have won, for the record. That disallowed goal at the end was a blown call.)
It wasn't for lack of trying by local organizers. In the days before the tournament, they cut ticket prices to as low as $5 for local students. That still wasn't enough to fill the tournament's smallest stadium, with an official capacity of 13,000.
Montreal faced a different challenge: selling the nearly 60,000 seats at venerable Olympic Stadium. Tournament organizers chose the venue instead of the 20,500-seat Stade Saputo next door, because of a requirement that every World Cup stadium have an artificial surface. Stade Saputo, home of Major League Soccer's Montreal Impact, has natural grass.