June 12, 2006

World Cup ratings soar

By Gina Keating

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - America is going soccer mad so far
this World Cup season.

Preliminary ratings for the broadcast by Walt Disney
Co.-owned ABC of the opening weekend of the 2006 World Cup
soccer championship rose 65 percent over the 2002 tournament,
ESPN, ABC's sister station, said on Monday.

Spanish-language broadcaster Univision also reported on
Monday that its World Cup audience for the tournament's first
eight games nearly tripled over the same period in 2002.

ABC's broadcast of three matches Friday through Sunday
delivered an average rating of 2.8, with about 2.8 percent of
U.S. homes in the top 56 markets watching. That compared with
an average rating of 1.7 for two matches broadcast during the
2002 opening weekend.

The figures were adjusted to take into account this year's
additional match, an ESPN spokesman said.

Univision said its first eight games were watched by an
average of 2.6 million viewers, 1.7 million more than the
average of the 2002 tournament's opening weekend audience.

The ratings were preliminary, or "overnight," statistics
that will be completed later in the week, an ESPN spokesman

The 2006 matches broadcast by ABC were England vs.
Paraguay, Mexico vs. Iran and Trinidad & Tobago vs. Sweden. In
2002, the network broadcast two matches on opening weekend --
Ireland vs. Cameroon and Sweden vs. England.

Univision, which plans live broadcasts of 56 of the
tournament's 64 games, said the Mexico-Iran match-up scored 5.4
million viewers, making it the most watched sporting event in
Spanish-language TV history.

This year, the matches are being broadcast live in the
United States from Germany, a factor that could have boosted
ratings over 2002, when the matches were played in Japan and
Korea and tape-delayed in the United States.

ESPN spokesman Mac Nwulu said the cable broadcaster's
marketing campaign, which featured music from the rock band U2,
combined with the "exceptional performance" in 2002 of the U.S.
team built interest in the event.

"Part of it is that more people are watching soccer," Nwulu
said. "The U.S. is a much better team this year, so people are
more interested in something that the U.S. might win."

A Univision spokeswoman had no comment on the reasons for
the ratings increase.