But UEFA event is hitting local box offices

LONDON

While Americans are glued to the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, millions of sports fans across Europe are tuning into the UEFA Euro 2012 soccer tournament.

TV coverage of the first week of the 24-day event, which bowed last Friday, jointly hosted by Poland and Ukraine, is attracting huge ratings as national teams compete for the coveted trophy — while local box offices are feeling the pinch.

Audience share peaked at a mighty 75% in Germany on Wednesday when more than 27 million watched the national team’s 2-1 victory over the Netherlands on pubcaster ARD, believed to be a record for a first-round Euro match.

In the U.K., the first match for the England team ended in a 1-all draw with France on Monday, securing 12.3 million viewers and a 56.3% aud share for commercial web ITV1.

The game nabbed 10.2 million viewers in France, a 50% share, for commercial web TFI, its biggest audience since 2006 when the national team beat Switzerland to qualify for the World Cup.

In Spain, winners of the 2008 tournament and beneficiaries of a recent €125 billion bailout from the Eurozone, Sunday’s draw with Italy scored 10.15 million viewers for a 60.2% share.

“Having won Euro 2008 and the World Cup, the Spanish team is generating enormous expectations. Given the economic crisis, Spaniards need to escape,” said Javier Lopez, analysis director for Barlovento Communications.

In Italy, the same match scored 14 million viewers on pubcaster RAI (a 70% share), dispelling fears of disaffection with the national team due to a recent match-fixing scandal in which some of its players are allegedly implicated.

Germany is joint-favorite with Spain to win the contest, which wraps July 1 in Kiev.

In Germany, aside from the massive viewship for Wednesday’s win against the Netherlands, Saturday’s game in which Germany beat Portugal 1-0, attracted 22.33 million viewers (69.3%) on ARD.

But soccer fans are tuning in even when the national team isn’t on the pitch.

On Saturday, BBC1’s coverage of Germany’s 1-0 win over Portugal attracted more than 8 million viewers in the U.K. Meanwhile Ireland-Croatia and Spain-Italy both won audiences of over 7 million in Blighty.

In Italy, Monday’s England-France draw took a 35% share for RAI in the early evening. It then did a 27% share a few hours later with Ukraine’s victory against Sweden even though rival Mediaset counter-programmed Sandra Bullock’s “The Blind Side,” which managed a decent 17% share.

In France, where rights are shared between new Al Jazeera-owned sports pay web BeInSport and free-to-air webs M6 and TF1, 5.9 millions viewers (27.2% share) tuned in to watch Germany-Portugal, while Germany-Netherlands drew 6.8 million viewers (26% share).

While TV ratings soar, theaters are taking a hit.

With no major bow and Spanish youth cinema attendance in crisis, total Spanish B.O. takings for the first weekend of the tourney were just $5 million, the lowest since the 2010 soccer World Cup.

Italy’s B.O. grosses dropped a steep 32% last weekend compared with the previous weekend.

In the U.K., the three-day weekend B.O. was down 27% from the previous weekend, which coincided with four days of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Studios opted not to open a pic, leaving indies to try their luck instead. eOne bowed “The Pact” across 310 screens to a bland $1.5 million, while Revolver’s “Ill Manors” and Momentum’s “Red Tails” both underperformed, taking $398,188 and $300,512, respectively. Year over year, U.K. box office was down by 17% last weekend.

Gaul’s box office suffered a 20% drop year-to-year, even with such tentpoles as “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” “Prometheus” and “Men in Black 3,” which held the top three slots.

(Diana Lodderhose in London, Nick Vivarelli in Rome, Ed Meza in Berlin, John Hopewell in Madrid and Elsa Keslassy in Paris contributed to this report.)

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