Rugby World Cup draws big audience


PARIS -- TF1, host broadcaster of the Rugby World Cup, drew nearly 12.2 million viewers for Saturday's final in which South Africa beat England, the network said Monday. The third-place match, which saw France thrashed by outsiders Argentina, drew an audience of just over 13 million for TF1 on Friday evening.

In the U.K., 15.8 million viewers watched the final on ITV, a 60% audience share for the network, its highest rating so far this year.

The French numbers were unsurprisingly down from the previous weekend's semi-final between France and England, which set a new French audience record for the sport, with 18.3 million viewers and a market share of 67.4%, TF1's biggest audience of the year by far.

Despite the home team crashing out before the final, TF1 will no doubt be satisfied with the interest generated in rugby for the first edition of the World Cup held in France. The French victory over tournament favorites New Zealand in the quarter-finals drew an audience of more than 16.6 million, while France's game against Ireland earlier in the tournament was watched by 14.5 million on TF1. France's pool matches were followed by an average audience of 12.1 million viewers.

One interesting statistic from the point of view of advertisers is that the event drew a strong female demographic, with 40% of the audience made up of women.

The network may, however, be out of pocket on the event. According to industry estimates, the company made advertising receipts of about €42 million ($59.7 million) spread across both its main channel and subsidiary Eurosport, not including sponsorship.

TF1 paid €40 million ($56 million) for French rights to this edition of the World Cup and the network said its production costs for the current edition are in the region of €10 million ($14 million). But as with last year's Soccer World Cup, the network seems happy to take the losses on the chin to preserve its dominant position in France. "Our reputation as a big event channel has been strengthened," said Charles Villeneuve, TF1's head of sport.

TF1 also has rights to the next edition of the Rugby World Cup to be held in New Zealand in 2011, though French TV audiences for that tournament are likely to be significantly lower because of time differences with Europe.

Mimi Turner in London contributed to this report.