European Soccer Championship Scores Record Ratings
Opening-round matches are the most-watched shows of the year on European networks as Russia faces sanctions due to violent fans.
The Euro 2016 soccer championships have only just kicked off, but national networks across the continent have already scored record ratings with the first-round matches.
The tournament, which opened in France on Friday and runs through the final on July 10, is already on track to be the most-watched in Euro Cup history, with viewing figures hitting near-record levels in several territories.
France's TF1 drew a peak audience of 16.50 million for Friday's opening match between the home side and Romania, which France won 2-1 thanks to a last-minute goal from Dimitri Payet. It was the best rating of the year for TF1 and its highest-rated sports broadcast since 1996. On average, 14.44 million viewers saw the match, a 54.8 percent share, with 70.8 percent of men under 50 tuning in.
In Germany, an astounding 26.57 million watched the defending world champions beat Ukraine 2-0 in their opening match on Sunday. The figure was 4 million more than watched Germany's opening match at the 2012 Euros and amounted to a 68.5 percent share for public broadcaster ARD.
Spain, the two-time defending European champions, got off to an impressive start, beating the Czech Republic 1-0 in their opening match on Monday, and the game drew more than 8.80 million viewers on commercial network Telecinco, a 55.8 percent share. The number is all the more impressive given the fact that the match kicked off at 3 p.m., well outside of primetime.
In the U.K., commercial network ITV drew a peak audience of 14.10 million for England's opening game versus Russia, making it the most-watched TV show of the year in Britain. Overall, 12.90 million viewers, a 55 percent audience share, took in the entire match. That's not a record for a Euro match in Britain, but it represents ITV's highest primetime share since June 2014. And, if the English team does well, expect viewing figures to jump accordingly. The highest-ever rating for a Euro match in Britain was for the 2004 quarterfinal match between England and Portugal, which 20.66 million Brit viewers caught on BBC1.
The England-Russia match proved less popular farther east, though a still-impressive 5.3 million people watched on public network Channel One as Russia pulled off a last-minute equalizer to draw England 1-1 on Saturday. The 28.5 percent share is a strong start for Channel One's Euro campaign.
That campaign, however, could be disrupted if there is a repeat of the violence seen before and after the England-Russia match. Some 35 people were injured in clashes between Russian and English fans, and French police have arrested 20 people in connection with the violence.
UEFA, European soccer's governing body, fined the Russian soccer federation $169,000 (€150,000) for the disorderly conduct of its fans following the match, when groups of Russian hooligans in the soccer stadium rushed to attack fans in the English block. Russia was also charged for fan racism against English players and for illegally lighting fireworks at the game.
UEFA has warned both England and Russia that their teams could be kicked out of the tournament if there is further fan violence. On Tuesday, it was announced that Russia would be disqualified from the competition in the event of any further violence.
In the U.S., Euro 2016 has had a harder time attracting viewers. Just 662,000 tuned in for the opening France-Romanian match on Friday on ESPN2. That compares to an average of 1.3 million per match during Euro 2012. The match was originally scheduled to air on the main ESPN network but was bumped two days before in favor of a broadcast of the Muhammad Ali memorial service.
The Euros are also competing for fan attention with the pan-American soccer tournament, the Copa Americano, being held in the U.S. through June 27.
An average of 4.4 million people across Fox Sports 1 and Spanish-language Univision watched Team USA beat Paraguay 1-0 on Sunday to qualify for the tournament's quarterfinals. The match was the most-watched men's soccer game ever on Fox. The tournament has already produced three of the top four men's soccer ratings in the channel's history.
Rhonda Richmond in Paris, Vladimir Kozlov in Moscow, Pamela Rolfe in Madrid and Alex Ritman in London contributed to this report.