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TV ratings records in key markets cement World Cup as truly global game

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By Nick Harris

17 June 2010

Record TV ratings in some key markets suggest the 2010 World Cup is on course to be a contender as the most-watched single-sport event in history. For that, much will depend on the numbers in the most populous nations, including China (not represented but tuning in) Brazil and the USA. But perhaps more importantly for football’s continued growth, there are firm signs the event is growing in popularity in historically reticent football nations.

The full global picture for viewing figures will not be available for some time, but snapshots now that every nation has played at least one game, and now ratings are out for yesterday’s games, include:

  • South African TV attracted a record audience, peaking at 11m people on SABC and Supersport 3, and with an average of 10.147m, for the tournament opener between South Africa and Mexico. That represented a 39 per cent higher figure than the Brazil v South Africa game at the 2009 Confederations Cup. The tournament opener was also the most-watched television programme that day in Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas and some other American cities as it attracted 5.4m viewers on Spanish-language TV in the USA as well as 2.9m viewers on ESPN in the same country.
  • South Korea’s opening game against Greece drew an audience share of 59.8 per cent and a peak of 70.8 per cent, making it the seventh highest World Cup match rating Korea has seen. The same match in China averaged 24m viewers on CCTV5.
  • Argentina’s opener against Nigeria scored a rating of 63.2 points across two channels. This was lower than the figure for Argentina’s opener in 2006, but still “staggeringly high for a Saturday lunchtime” according to ratings expert Kevin Alavy.
  • England’s opener against the USA had an average audience in the UK of 13.2m on ITV for the whole programme and 17.65m for the game itself, peaking at 19.415m. In the USA, 13m people watched the same game on ABC and another 3.8m on Univision for a total US audience of 16.8m, or higher than any of the first four games of the NBA basketball finals.
  • The early audiences in the USA are approaching double the numbers attracted in 2006 at the same stage. The footballing records to beat (post 1994 World Cup) are the 18m who watched the women’s World Cup final in 1999, when the USA beat China, and the 6.7m who watched Mexico play Argentina in the R16 on Univision in 2006. Both those records could tumble in 2010.
  • Australia’s opening humbling by Germany attracted 1.4m on SBS, making it the eighth-most watched programme in the channel’s 30-year history. All the other seven were football too. In Germany, the matched averaged 16m people.
  • Japan’s opener against Cameroon, with an 11pm kick-off (local time) attracted good ratings figures of between 40 and 45.2 for a late-night game.
  • Italy’s opener against Paraguay was within a few million of a record number, attracting 18.9m people on Rai, plus 2.54m on Sky Italia for a total of 21.5m and an audience share of 72.7 per cent.
  • New Zealand is a rugby nation but a late-night audience (kick off 11.30pm local time) of 450,000 in a country with a population of 4.4m watched the match with Slovaki, which was more than respectable compared to the 461,000 who watched the All Blacks play Ireland at peak time.
  • Spain’s painful defeat to Switzerland yesterday attracted 9.771m viewers on Telecinco, a record for the channel, and higher than Barcelona’s 9.2m audience for their semi-final defeat in the Champions League to Inter. International football is “much, much bigger, always, than club football,” says Alavy, but for Spain to attract those numbers for a midweek afternoon kick-off was “very positive.”

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