World Cup: First-Round Action Draws Record Ratings Globally

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Even traditionally soccer-shy nations like the U.S. are catching World Cup fever.

As the tournament approaches the halfway mark, even nontraditional soccer nations, including the U.S., are catching World Cup fever.

Official television ratings from World Cup organizing body FIFA show the international soccer tournament continues to raise the bar when it comes to viewership figures. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is only at the halfway mark but is setting ratings records in several territories.

While viewership has, as expected, been huge in soccer strongholds Europe and South America, numbers have also been impressive in territories on the soccer periphery.

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In the U.S., ESPN recorded its best-ever World Cup numbers, drawing 11.1 million on Monday, June 16, for the opening-round match between Team USA and Ghana, which the U.S. won in dramatic fashion 2-1. Should Team U.S. go through to the second round, ESPN's ratings record is sure to be smashed.

On the other side of the world, some 2.3 million watched Australia's SBS to see the Socceroos go down 3-1 in their opening match against Chile. While not a record (it was the third-largest audience this year in Australia for a sporting event) it was still impressive, given the early kick-off, 8 a.m. local time.

"These record-breaking figures show just how popular football and the FIFA World Cup is across the world, from Japan to Argentina," said Niclas Ericson, Director of FIFA TV. "We are seeing highly encouraging growth in interest in markets such as the United States and Australia."

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The single highest one-country viewership figure was in Brazil for the opening match on June 12. A total of 42.9 million Brazilians caught their squad's 3-1 win over Croatia on TV Globo, the highest-rated sports broadcast of 2014.

An impressive 34.1 million Japanese fans watched their team lose 2-1 to Ivory Coast on public network NHK.

Opening-round matches grabbed massive market share across Europe. A huge 14.2 million Brits watched their home team go down 1-2 against Italy on June 14, while 12.8 million Italians caught the same match on RAI1. Both were the biggest TV audiences recorded in the respective territories this year.

Germany's 4-0 thrashing of Portugal on Monday, June 16, pulled in 26.4 million on pubweb ARD, the biggest audience so far this year for a sporting event, though below the 27.91 million that caught Germany's first game (against Australia) in the 2010 World Cup.

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A total of 8.3 million Dutch fans watched their team bash current world champions Spain 5-1 in their opening match, a ratings high for the year in the territory. Belgium's 2-1 victory over Algeria in their opening-group match pulled 1.5 million viewers on RTBF1, the highest-ever TV audience for French-speaking Belgium, while 2.2 million in the Dutch-speaking part of the country caught the game on pubweb Canvas, the second-highest audience ever recorded.

France also has soccer fever, as their squad easily advanced to the second round after two impressive wins. The second, a 5-2 thrashing of Switzerland, drew 16.7 million viewers, a 61.6 percent share and the best result for a World Cup game since 2006, when France reached the final.

Italy's ratings high — and tournament low — came with Friday's shocking 0-1 defeat by tiny Costa Rica. The match drew 15.87 million on public channel Rai, a 67.19 percent share and more than 3 million viewers on pay platform Sky Italia.

According to FIFA, the 2014 World Cup is being aired in every country in the world, via its 160 main rights partners and some 700 licensees across TV, mobile, broadband and radio.

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