How the BIG game’s changing the rules

Media firms worldwide get inventive to kick up their action during the World Cup

In the coming four weeks, audiences around the globe will be tuned via TV, radio, computer, cellphone or carrier pigeon into what is arguably the biggest sporting fiesta — maybe even the biggest entertainment event — on the planet.

And Americans, as ever, will largely ignore it even though it’s one of the few things whose grip on the global imagination upstages even that of Hollywood.

Yes, that quadrennial soccer fest, the Federation Intl. Football Assn. (FIFA) World Cup, began in Germany on June 9 and climaxes 64 games later on July 9.

Everywhere except the U.S., the beautiful game, as it’s known, draws the kind of ratings that make TV execs giddy and leaves cinema managers with empty theaters.

A cumulative aud of 28.8 billion watched the 2002 tournament, held in Japan and South Korea, with some 1 billion — one-sixth of the world’s population — tuning in for the final match in which Brazil beat Germany.

But who will be the winners this year?

The tourney has long pumped TV channels — in Spain, tyro terrestrial channel La Sexta bought the rights as a virtual loss leader in the hope of persuading local auds to retune their sets to receive its signal.

This edition also is priming take-up of emerging platforms, such as Internet TV and mobile viewing devices, as soccer-mad fans do everything they can to catch the games. In the U.K. it’s driving sales of wide-screen TVs, which will have a positive effect for the home cinema and high-def TV biz.

Here’s a rundown on some of the changes in select territories:

Mideast: Fans find ways to avoid high prices

Spain: Tyro web’s gamble

U.K.: Cup can’t save ad biz

Germany: Home team means biz

Eastern and Central Europe: In pole position

Brazil: Ball’s in the ‘Net

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