Soccer fever soars

Japan auds push Cup finals into record books

TOKYO — Move over Godzilla, World Cup fever is stomping through Japan.

The numbers are in for Japan’s first ever World Cup Finals match — a 1-0 loss to Argentina on Sunday night — and pubcaster’s NHK broadcast of the game was the highest rated sports program in Japanese TV history with a 67.3% rating, according to ratings agency Video Research.

Second highest rating

The program was the second highest-rated program since the agency started counting viewers in 1962. The only program with higher ratings was NHK’s annual music extravaganza called Kohaku, which got an 81.4% rating for its 1963 broadcast.

Japan ground to a halt on Sunday night, while numerous venues across the country hosted special soccer viewing parties. The 50,000 seat Fukuoka Dome threw open its doors to Japan side supporters and Kobe’s Chinatown hosted an outdoor celebration complete with a soccer broadcast on jumbotrons.

NHK broadcast the game on its terrestrial channel and got a 60.5% rating and on its satellite channel it measured a 6.8% rating.

The only other international sporting event that compares to the interest and ratings numbers of the World Cup match came in 1964 when Japan’s women’s volleyball team squared off against the Soviet Union for the Olympic gold medal in volleyball in Tokyo. Japan won the gold and NHK’s rating was 66.8%.

Power surge

So many people were watching the soccer game, that electric power usage surged during the match. Tokyo Electric Power Co. Inc. reported that electricity use in the Tokyo area was an average 350,000 kilowatts higher than on the previous Sunday.

All other programs were crushed by soccer coverage. NTV’s show, “Denpa Shonen,” which sometimes is the top rated show in Japan, only secured about a 10% rating, and it usually gets between 22% and 28%.

In terms of overall ratings, soccer is becoming more popular than baseball and Sumo wrestling. In 1997, Japan’s World Cup qualifier games were among the top five programs for the year. The games easily beat out the ratings numbers posted for the Japan Series baseball championship and all of the Grand Sumo Tournaments.

The next test for the soccer ratings machine comes on Saturday when Japan combats Croatia.