Semi-final attracts 10.6 million to ZDF

BERLIN —The biggest TV audience ever recorded in Germany for a handball match — 10.6 million viewers for a 41.3% share — watched pubcaster ZDF on Thursday evening as the hosts of the world championship Germany beat France in double overtime in a semi-final contest.

Up to a peak of 15.3 million in a nation of 34 million TV households tuned in to watch the match of the once relatively obscure sport that has nevertheless soared in popularity because of savvy promotion by ZDF and ARD, which broadcasts matches on alternate days. Aud also was boosted by the German team’s unexpected good run to the final on Sunday, with victories over past champions such as Spain and now France.

The German pubcasters, worried they may someday not be able to afford rights for the national pastime, soccer, have been ramping up their coverage of handball and other second-tier sports — such as boxing — for the past several years to have something to fall back on in a worst-case scenario.

“That up to a million watched the semi-final ought to give the sport of handball a major popularity boost that a lot of people never dreamed was possible,” said ZDF sport program director Dieter Gruschwitz, who has been spearheading the diversification efforts. “We’ll have to wait and see if the handball euphoria will carry over after the world championship is over.”

Commercial web DSF, which is broadcasting all the matches not involving the German team, recorded its second highest ratings ever for the other semi-final match between Poland and Denmark on Thursday. An average of 2.2 million viewers and peak of 4.4 million watched that match.

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