World Cup: Will big team exits hurt ratings?

Broadcasters could be facing millions in lost earnings

The FIFA World Cup has proved a ratings juggernaut for broadcasters around the globe, and the first matches in the tournament's second round didn't disappoint.

But with many big teams now out of the running, viewership figures and advertising revenue could fall faster than the dashed hopes of fans in the U.S., England, France or Italy.

Such channels as France's TF1, Sky Italia and Britain's ITV saw their ratings bonanza come to an end as their respective home sides failed to progress. Since advertising rates usually are substantially higher if the home team is playing, those broadcasters could also be facing millions in lost earnings. TF1, for example, charges €160,000 ($197,000) for a 30-second spot on the network if France is playing but only €90,000 ($111,000) if they're not.

Advertisers who would have paid €175,000 ($215,000) for a commercial in a quarterfinal game featuring Les Bleus now get the discount rate of €85,000 ($105,000).

Nearly 20 million fans watched England's crashing 4-1 defeat to Germany on BBC1 on Sunday but, the slavish loyalty of disappointed fans aside, England's exit will have a significant effect on the ongoing ratings hopes of ITV and the BBC, which are sharing the U.K. rights.

Matches in which England hasn't played have rated between a third and half of the 18 million-20 million that have tuned in to England games. For ITV, which got to air only two of the U.K.'s matches, England's abundant failure on the pitch will mean that network CEO Adam Crozier's hope of a 25% hike in advertising revenue this year is likely to be dashed.

But things are even worse in Italy, where Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti said Monday that the country's early elimination will shave one percentage point off gross dometic product growth in the near term. The reason for the drop is not just because of lower spending directly related to the World Cup but also because the Italian team's dismal performance has added to the country's economic malaise.

The U.S. team's 2-1 extra-time loss to Ghana on Saturday isn't likely to affect the nation's economic standing -- or, for that matter, Disney's bottom line -- to any great degree. That said, having the U.S., Britain and Mexico no doubt would have boosted ratings for ESPN and Univision.

Still, Argentina's 3-1 win over Mexico on Sunday drew Univision's biggest audience ever. In fact, the 9.4 million viewers were the most for any Spanish-language telecast in U.S. history.

If the U.S. team had gone further in the tournament, it would have provided a strong, visceral boost to the ratings for soccer, which has had trouble gaining hold among English-speaking American audiences.

The most-watched soccer game in U.S. TV history is the 1999 women's World Cup final between the U.S. and China; the round of 16 game between the U.S. and Ghana didn't approach those lofty heights.

Nor were the many millions of dollars in ad buys on Univision or ESPN for the World Cup -- not to mention the new, soccer-themed creative that many of the big advertisers rolled out -- contingent on the U.S. team going deeper in the tourney. ESPN and Univision spent millions of dollars in marketing, promotion and production, clearing primetime space for highlight shows and moving such shows as "SportsCenter" and "Despierta America" to the World Cup's South Africa locale.

For its part, ESPN told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday that it expects the momentum among U.S. soccer fans to continue, even with the home team out of contention.

"Americans are paying attention to the World Cup in a way we have not seen since 1994," ESPN spokesman Bill Hofheimer said. "We have always contended that the World Cup will do well no matter what the U.S. team does."

Univision couldn't be reached for comment, but the network's executives told THR much the same thing earlier this year.

There were 12 million viewers in the U.S. for the 2008 World Cup Final between Italy and France, more than three times the 3.9 million viewers for the 2002 World Cup Final between Germany and Brazil.

"Americans are drawn to major events, and the World Cup is a spectacle," Hofheimer said. "Many of the world's best players and teams are still in contention, and there are a number of great matches left to be played."

Things look brighter in Asia, where audiences appear to still be tuning in despite local favorites South Korea being knocked out. While an average of 27.6 million Chinese viewers watched Saturday's South Korea-Uruguay match on CCTV, some 34 million caught the Germany-England game Sunday. In South Korea, 65.3% of local viewers watched their team's final game, a figure unlikely to be matched for the remainder of the tournament.

Japan is now carrying the flag for the Asian region as it heads into its second-round matchup against Paraguay.

For broadcasters lucky enough to be backing the winning squads, the World Cup keeps on giving. A total of 25.6 million viewers watched Germany trounce England on public network ARD, making for a record 87% market share. Even Argentina's 3-1 victory over Mexico on Sunday evening drew an impressive 12.8 million viewers, a 41% share, for commercial net RTL. Germany's quarterfinal game against Argentina on Saturday could top the 29 million-viewer record set in 2006 when Germany lost to Italy in the semifinals.

Those networks without a home team to back might have to wait for the tournament's final match July 11. No matter who is playing, the World Cup Final remains a reliable global ratings draw.

Scott Roxborough reported from Cologne, Germany; and Mimi Turner reported from London. Paul Gough in New York, Eric J. Lyman in Rome, Rebecca Leffler in Paris, Park Soo-mee in Seoul and Jonathan Landreth in Beijing contributed to this report.