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Sports score more eyeballs

Auds improving for ESPN

SINGAPORE — TV sports rights are still highly coveted despite the recession in Asia, and now new research has found that 64% more people watch sport away from home than cable data previously showed.

The news comes courtesy of Asia Market Intelligence’s study of 18-to-45-year-old males, conducted in Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.

Those audience figures are set to grow thanks to the soccer World Cup, which is being staged in Asia this June — and China has qualified.

Away win

“We’ve always known that our out-of-home viewership was greater than the peoplemeters show, but even we were surprised at how much,” says Vibhu Sharma, senior veep advertising and integrated sales at Disney/News Corp. joint venture ESPN Star Sports. ESPN Star Sports coup at securing exclusive pan-regional rights to English Premier League soccer, at an estimated $40 million, is hampered by the low cable and satellite penetration in many key Asian markets — 30% in Singapore and 26% in Hong Kong.

Still, the network is encouraged by the findings, boosted by the news that Singapore has just legalized gambling on soccer, which will further fuel viewership.

It’s good news for other concerns keen to corner this lucrative, and growing, sports viewership market. Cable operator Singapore Cable Vision is seeking to recoup the rumored $9 million it spent on the exclusive rights to the 2002 and 2006 soccer World Cups.

“The fact that the 2002 cup is being held in Asia, co-hosted by Japan and Korea, and that China has qualified, has made it an attractive sponsorship opportunity,” says MindShare Singapore’s Aaron Querk, handling Nike SouthEast Asia’s mediabuying.

And China’s interest in sport is set to rise phenomenally as the 2008 Olympics in Beijing approaches.

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