Soccer's rise in America is often hyped, and sometimes overhyped or casually dismissed, in various ways. Whether or not MLS is growing properly, or the popularity of European football vs. the American game, is a discussion for another day. What this weekend's Gold Cup Final confirms is this: if you put the U.S. men's national team on broadcast television, people will tune in.
The Gold Cup Final aired on Fox Sunday afternoon, and it drew a solid 1.7 rating. That's typically higher than the average for the regular season of hockey, college basketball, as well as many non-major golf tournaments. It also showed proper incremental growth between the three Fox Gold Cup broadcasts featuring Team USA. Its round-robin win over Costa Rica drew a 0.7, while its quarterfinal win over El Salvador drew a 1.2.
Ratings can change from the overnights to the final, but this much is known: only one sports broadcast drew a higher overnight than the Gold Cup Final this weekend and that was the final round of the RBC Canadian Open on CBS, which drew a 1.8. That means that the final of a tournament that many soccer fans themselves admit is somewhat mediocre scored higher ratings than a primetime UFC bout on Fox, Fox's Saturday MLB broadcast and ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. All three drew a 1.6 rating.
Now, comparing the final of a tournament to baseball in July can seem a little disingenuous. However, it's not as if Fox and ESPN's baseball games were small market, middling affairs: they both featured the popular St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves as their main game (Fox's regional telecasts added in the first-place Oakland A's, as well as teams from Washington and New York). This was two first-place teams in the midst of a division race, right before the trade deadline.
Soccer still faces challenges on television, at least at the club level, in this country. MLS continues to be a mediocre ratings draw for NBC Sports Network and ESPN. But on the international level, the men's national team has finally started to take a regular ratings foothold in its home country.