Italy’s Euro 2012 Semifinal Triumph Scores Ratings Record

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Television coverage of Italy’s 2-1 victory over Germany in the Euro 2012 soccer championships Thursday night set an all-time ratings record for the winning side. 23.3 million Italians, 79.55 percent of the viewing public, watched the match on free and pay TV.

That tops the previous record of 79.52 percent that tuned into Italy’s World Cup final win over France in 2006. The 2006 match, however, which was broadcast on a weekend, beat out Thursday’s game in total viewers, with an audience 23.8 million.

Across Italy, normal activity paused to make time for the 90-minute match. In Rome, fans packed into the Piazza del Popolo, the city's largest open square, to watch the Euro 2012 semifinal on a giant screen. Traffic in the area was blocked off. Rome’s mayor Gianni Alemanno, as well as the German ambassador to Italy, Michael Gerdts, were on hand.

In the earthquake-stricken Emila Romagna region, municipal governments set up huge viewing screens for thousands of people made temporarily homeless. At the Taormina film festival in Sicily, organizers rescheduled Thursday’s programming to show the game in the historic Teatro Antico. Italian film legend Sophia Loren waited until halftime to receive a lifetime achievement honor from the festival.

Further north, in Germany, millions backed public viewing venues across the country, with nearly half a million watching at Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate. While the mood among German fans was more sober, the ratings were similarly impressive. 27.98 million viewers, or 76.8 percent of the audience, tuned in on public broadcaster ARD. Among the key 14-49 demographic, the figure was 80.3 percent.

Both represent a high-water mark for the Euro 2012 tournament though not an all-time high. The German squad’s semifinal loss to Spain in the 2010 World Cup drew more than 31 million viewers.

Viewing figures were strong across Europe – with 12 million tuning in on BBC 1 in England and a peak of 11 million watching the match on France’s TF1.

One person not watching was the most prominent fan of the German national soccer squad, Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German leader instead spent the night in Brussels hammering out the bail out deal with her European Union counterparts aimed at solving the continent’s crippling debt crisis.

Merkel, however, may take some solace from the defeat of her national side. Italian investment bank Hildebrandt and Ferrar has estimated that if Italy defeats Spain in the Euro 2012 final on Sunday, the resulting euphoria could boost  economic growth in Italy by up to 0.3 percent. As one Italian blogger joked, maybe Germany lost on purpose in order to avoid having to bail out Italy later on down the line.

Rebecca Leffler in Paris and Georg Sazlai in London contributed to this report.

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