A record 84% watch Cup win in Italy

Based on overseas ratings, soccer is indeed king. And America, while having come a long way, still has some catching up to do.

Italy’s win in Sunday’s final against France scored a record aud, while roughly 17 million watched Stateside.

A huge 84% of the audience had their sets on the game in Italy, gluing more than 23 million to pubcaster RAI. (An estimated 2 million more watched on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox.) And some 22.1 million French viewers tuned in to see commercial web TF1′s coverage of the game, played in Germany.

In the U.S., preliminary estimates show ABC’s coverage averaging about 12 million viewers — three times the audience that watched the 2002 final. Spanish-language broadcaster Univision averaged more than 5 million viewers — about 70% greater than the 2.9 million for 2002.

Since ABC resumed airing the FIFA World Cup in 1994, only two soccer contests (both in 1994) have drawn a larger aud here.

As for Europe, this World Cup was the first to which RAI failed to secure exclusive World Cup rights in Italy, having been outbid by Sky for a complete package of 64 matches.

RAI aired a selection of 25 games, including all those played by the national team.

Though it sparked heated local protest, the pubcaster’s move to save on soccer moolah by not buying exclusive rights turned out to be economically sound.

“We banked on Italy making the final from the start,” said Paolo Lutteri, a marketing rep for RAI’s advertising unit Sipra. “That allowed us to reach our goal of selling more than E50 million ($63.7 million) worth of ads, which is E10 million ($12.7 million) more than what we made from the Cup in 2002, when we had all 64 games exclusively.”

While Sky, which has 3.5 million subs, paid $51 million for its package, RAI would not disclose the cost for its 25 nonexclusive matches.

Auditel, which monitors Italian TV ratings, does not release figures for satcaster Sky Italia.

In France, the audience numbers came in just under those for Thursday’s semifinal between France and Portugal, which was watched by 22.2 million.

More than eight in 10 Gallic viewers saw the finals, with the audience peaking at 25 million during a penalty shootout that clinched the game.

Cities and towns all over France wooed people away from their armchairs to watch the final on giant open-air screens, which probably caused the slight ratings dip.

Tournament, which started June 9, delivered to TF1 France’s top seven highest ratings so far this year.

TF1 had been planning a two-hour after-match celebration show, “Merci les Bleus,” if the team had won. But the show was cut back to an hour after France missed a decisive penalty kick shortly after captain Zinedine Zidane was sent off for head-butting an Italian player.

In host nation Germany, the World Cup was a ratings boon for pubcasters ARD and ZDF, commercial web RTL and paybox Premiere, which paid a combined $382 million for rights to the games.

German networks said the 26 million (72%) that watched Sunday’s final on ARD between Italy and France meant a cumulative¬†total of 704 million viewers in Germany had watched¬†the 64 matches on terrestrial TV.

Some 29.5 million viewers (84%) saw Germany lose to Italy in the semifinal, setting a new audience record for pubcaster ZDF.

(Rick Kissell in Hollywood and Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin contributed to this report.)

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