Estimated 670 million people expected to tune in

An estimated 670 million people — six times CBS’ record 2010 Super Bowl TV aud — are set to see part of the FIFA World Cup soccer final live on July 11.

Exhibitors’ challenge is to persuade at least a small percentage to do so at theaters.

If soccer-mad Spain is anything to go by, results so far are more promising than spectacular.

Spain’s major chains, Yelmo and Cinesa, plus local cinemas have been carrying the home team’s games in 2D and 3D.

Initial results show potential, said Yelmo CEO Fernando Evole.

June 21’s match, which Spain lost to Honduras, sold 3,500 tickets at a total 32 2D and 3D locales, repping around E40,000 ($50,000) in B.O and 50%-60% occupancy rates.

“New contents bring new audiences to cinemas, often at different screening times. This adds up, keeping cinemas as prime leisure locales,” said Evole.

In Italy, France and England, where national teams have already been eliminated, exhibs are betting on fewer games.

Apart from Spain, all major European exhibitors are focusing on matches shot from the five 3D-equipped stadiums to lure audiences away from TV sets and local bars.

In Italy, the country’s largest exhib, The Space Cinema circuit, is carrying 12 3D games in 20 theaters. It has yet to tally B.O. for the first match June 24, in which Italy lost to Slovakia.

In the U.K. and Ireland, the last six games (three of the quarter finals, both of the semifinals and the final) will unspool in 47 cinemas. World Cup rights holder SuperVision Media inked deals with Cineworld, Vue, Odeon, Empire and Savoy.

Meanwhile, in France, CielEcran acquired rights to a package of World Cup games from soccer federation FIFA and inked deals with local exhibitors, including Pathe-Gaumont and Kinepolis. But only the two semifinals and final will unspool in 3D in 39 theaters across Gaul.

“Our box office expectations are limited because we’re not offering exclusivity since people can watch the games for free on television and our team isn’t playing,” said Marc Welinski, topper of Gallic group CielEcran, which is owned by Pathe-Gaumont combo EuroPalaces and specializes in the distribution of alternative content to theaters. “But we think the 3D element can draw people in.”

Thomas Schuelke, marketing director for UCI, the country’s biggest multiplex chain, concurred, “We wanted viewers to come and see the great 3D experience.”

In Germany, 25 cinemas — including 12 belonging to UCI — are carrying World Cup games involving Germany in 3D.

UCI declined to provide box office data for the one game it’s shown so far, the June 23 match that saw Germany beat Ghana, but Schuelke said they were satisfied with the results, adding that many cinemas were sold out.

German admissions might have been fueled by the discounted ticket price. While other Euro exhibs are charging premium ticket prices ranging from $18.50 to $24.70, UCI is charging just $8.60 for admission.

“There’s a great deal of competition from TV, and we simply didn’t want to block out a major group of potential cinema-goers with high admission prices,” explained Schuelke.

John Hopewell in Madrid, Ed Meza in Berlin, Nick Vivarelli in Rome, Michael Day in Milan and Diana Lodderhose in London contributed to this report.

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