European Soccer Draws Huge TV Ratings for Champions League Semifinals

European soccer 2013 P

Viewer numbers hit heights usually only seen during the World Cup, as nearly 16 million German fans watched Bayern beat Barcelona and 9.5 million Spaniards mourned Madrid's defeat to Dortmund.

Politically and economically there is much that divides Germany and Spain, but this week audiences in the two nations were united in their common passion for soccer.

The two semifinal matches of the Champions League, European soccer's top league tournament, saw Germany's two leading teams, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, take on Spanish soccer's top two squads FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The result was a ratings doubleheader with viewer figures normally only seen during the World Cup or European Championship.

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In Germany, 15.9 million watched Bayern thrash Barcelona 3-nil Wednesday night on public broadcaster ZDF, a 46.2 percent share and a ratings record for a soccer game not involving the national side. 780,000 fans watched the simulcast of the match on News Corp.'s German pay-TV platform Sky Deutschland. Madrid's 2-0 win over Dortmund on Tuesday,  which saw the Spanish side eliminated from the tournament after they lost 1-4 to the Germans in the first leg of the semifinal, drew 9.5 million on pubweb Television Espanola, a 49.9 percent share of the viewing audience.

The first leg of the Bayern-Barcelona showdown pulled 8.2 million viewers in Spain while 13.7 million, 43.8 percent of the audience, watched Dortmund vs. Madrid last week. The alternating semifinal matches were broadcast exclusively on Sky Deutschland and Spain's Digital Plus pay channel, restricting their total reach and ensuring the matches did not crack the weekly top 10 rankings.

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The Bayern-Dortmund Champions League final on May 25 is unlikely to draw record figures in Spain, but the German numbers should be through the roof as the Bundesliga rivals face off on the international stage. British viewing figures should also be strong, given that the final will be held at London's Wembley stadium. Tuesday's Madrid vs. Dortmund match drew 4.15 million viewers on British commercial network ITV, making the game the third-most-watched program of the night.

“The Germans are Coming!” trumpeted Britain's The Sun tabloid Thursday following Dortmund and Bayern's semifinal victories, taking the week's results as a sign that soccer's cultural center has shifted from European and World Champion Spain to Germany. 

While the Spanish press wouldn't go that far, they did concede the superiority of the German squads, and particularly Bayern, which is tipped to win the final.

“Squashed!” ran the headline of leading Spanish sports newspaper Marca following Bayern's double battering of Barcelona, while Sport called the second-leg match “torture” and “nothing less than a game of men against boys."

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“Barca Destroyed!” German tabloid Das Bild couldn't help crowing on its front page, but match victory headlines competed for space with another soccer-related story: that of Bayern Munich President Uli Hoeness, who is facing criminal charges for tax evasion.

Many pundits have followed the line that the Bayern-Dortmund Champions League final marks a changing of the guard in European soccer and the beginning of a new era dominated by German teams.

It remains to be seen whether that era, should it transpire, will translate into increased TV revenues for the Bundesliga, Germany's top soccer league. A new rights deal, covering the next four years, values the Bundesliga's TV rights at $923 million (€700 million), ahead of Spain's La Liga ($864 million) and France's Ligue 1 ($846 million), but still puts the Germans far behind Italy's Serie A ($1.2 billion) and world champ England, whose Premier League secured its position as the world's most valuable division in soccer with a new rights deal estimated to be worth at least $3 billion.