Event scores record audiences across Europe

Even though some of the big European countries have failed to reach the quarterfinals, the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament is still set to attract stratospheric ratings across the continent.

Some matches have already beaten previous TV records in an event that rivals the Olympics for cumulative viewers.

Germany’s 4-1 victory over its arch-soccer nemesis England attracted 25.5 million viewers and a whopping 90 share Sunday.

The significance of the match was not lost on British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who ducked out of the G-20 summit of world leaders in Toronto on Sunday to watch the second half of the game.

But ratings were lower than the Teutonic team’s previous World Cup games. Germany’s June 13 dismantling of Australia (4-0) and its June 23 win over Ghana (1-0) attracted more than 29 million viewers, but unlike Sunday’s 4 p.m. match, those game aired in primetime.

“Had the Germany-England match taken place in the evening, or had it been a rainy day, we could have seen up to 30 million viewers,” said Andrea Eberhardt of pubcaster ARD’s ad division ARD-Werbung Sales and Services. “But it was a very hot and sunny day, and many people were watching the match outdoors in public viewing venues and in beer gardens and pubs.”

The official ratings estimates are based solely on households, but hundreds of thousands of viewers are gathering in public places for the matches. At Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, about 350,000 fans watched the Germany-England game on a giant outdoor screen.

By contrast, 12.8 million Germans tuned in to watch Argentina clobber Mexico in primetime on commercial web RTL, while the United States’ defeat at the hands of Ghana on Saturday night only pulled in 9.36 million RTL viewers.

In the U.K., where the BBC and commercial web ITV share rights, nearly 18 million saw England’s defeat to Germany on pubcaster BBC1 and BBC HD. The channels averaged 17.89 million viewers and an 82.4 share, with BBC HD accounting for 1.7 million (7.8 share).

It was the second-biggest live match average of the tournament, behind the 18.8 million for ITV1/ITV1 HD’s June 18 coverage of England vs. Algeria.

England’s elimination is a blow to ITV. It scored an ad boost heading into the World Cup, with bookings up 30% higher than in June 2009.

The web expects up to 22% growth in the second quarter as a result of the World Cup and higher had England remained in the tournament.

In Spain, this year’s World Cup is tracking slightly ahead of 2006, according to first-round ratings, as faith has built in the Spanish soccer team after its Euro 2008 victory.

The Spain vs. Honduras match notched up 13.1 million and a 71.5 share, becoming the highest-rated program ever on broadcaster Telecinco, which bought rights from Sogecable for Spain matches.

It has already beaten Spain’s 2006 World Cup TV record when 12.2 million viewers saw Spain lose to France.

Spain’s match against Portugal today is likely to surpass those numbers as the World Cup begins its knockout phase. Nevertheless, in terms of ratings, the high-water mark in Spain is the Euro 2008 penalty shoot-out between Spain and Italy, seen by 15.4 viewers for a 77.5 share, the most-watched TV program since the launch of audience ratings in 1992.

The elimination of national teams may often mean sharp declines for broadcasters. The size of TV auds grows exponentially when the country’s national team is playing, according to Ezechiel Abatan of market analyst Sportcal.

In France, where the national team has been knocked out, leading commercial web TF1 saw TV auds halved from 15 million for games featuring the home team to 7.4 million (a 33 share) for Sunday’s Argentina-Mexico match and just 5.6 million (49 share) for Germany-EngFrance’s 3-0 win over Brazil to become the 1998 World Cup champions remains the most-watched TV event in French history with a combined 23.6 million viewers on TF1 and paybox Canal Plus.

Italy appears to be an exception to the rule. Despite the ouster of the blue-clad Azzurri national team, soccer-mad Italians have remained glued to the tube.

“Everyone was disappointed when Italy crashed out,” said spokesman Gianluca Zamponi for pubcaster RAI. “But despite that, viewing figures have held up incredibly well. Before Italy’s exit, we were getting about 40% of the viewing public, or around 6 million viewers, and five days after their exit, we’re still getting around that level.”

(Michael Day in Milan, John Hopewell in Madrid and Elsa Keslassy in Paris contributed to this report.)

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