World Cup weekend scores in TV ratings


COLOGNE, Germany -- Lackluster play in the opening games has done nothing to cool World Cup fever, which shot up to new heights on the first weekend of the globe's biggest sporting event.

Record or near-record viewing figures were recorded in several territories for Friday's World Cup opening match, between South Africa and Mexico. More than 11 million South Africans watched their Bafana Bafana squad draw 1-1 with Mexico on local networks SABC1 and SuperSport3. SABC1 netted a 76% market share with SuperSport3 taking a 11% share.

Despite the early kickoff, at 9 a.m. local time, 19% of the Mexican population with access to television watched the opening match, a 15% increase on the local ratings average for World Cup group stage games soccer governing body FIFA said Monday.

In Europe, where the opening match aired late in the afternoon, the numbers were even stronger: 8.7 million, or 55% of the audience, watched on German public broadcaster ARD; 4.4 million (48%) on TF1 in France; 4.3 million Brits (a 50% share) on commercial network ITV and 3.1 million on Spain's Telecinco, a 25% share.

But the real record-breakers came later, as the tournament heavyweights played their first games. ITV drew 20.1 million British viewers to the spectacle of England vs. USA on Saturday, a commanding 73% share, even if 1.5 million watching on ITV's HD service missed England's only goal because of a technical glitch.

In France, 57% of the viewing public, some 15 million, watched Les Bleus fail to score against underdogs Uruguay in a disappointing 0-0 draw.

Chinese fans, with no home squad to cheer on, tuned in to support South Korea in its 2-0 defeat of Greece. 24 million watched the coverage on state network CCTV5.

But the weekend's biggest audience was in Germany, where nearly 28 million watched the home squad hammer Australian 4-0 in what was hailed as the most entertaining match of the tournament so far. It translated to a 74% share for public network ZDF and was just shy of the all-time ratings record of 29.7 million hit four years ago when Germany lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup semi-finals.

The nearly 13 million viewers in the U.S. that followed the England-USA game on ABC gave the network reason to cheer. It was the fifth-most-viewed soccer telecast in ABC history. The two-hour match window averaged a 7.3 household rating (8.4 million households), according to Nielsen; 3.8 million watched the match on the Spanish-language Univision network, for a total U.S. audience of 16.8 million viewers, more than double the viewership of the final game of the NHL, or about 400,000 more than watched Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

Nielsen and FIFA this year used a ratings measurement that takes into account multiple viewers watching on the same set, as a means of counting those catching the game at house parties and barbecues over the weekend. The actual ratings are likely to be much higher, since they don't count the millions that watched the matches at pubs, public squares and other outside venues.

Mimi Turner in London, Pamela Rolfe in Madrid and Rebecca Leffler in Paris contributed to this report.
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