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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 19:59 GMT 20:59 UK

US interest grows

By Sean Wheelock

America's 2-0 victory over Mexico will almost certainly rank as the most-watched match of the 2002 World Cup in the USA to date, when final audience figures are released later this week.

The historic US win should also rate as having attracted the largest audience for a football match in the history of 23-year-old cable TV channel ESPN, despite a 0230 (Eastern time) kick-off.

With matches being shown live on Spanish language networks Univision and TeleFutura, and in English on US networks ESPN and ESPN2, viewership has greatly exceeded preliminary expectations, and surpassed those of France 98.

Entering the second round of World Cup 2002, Univision/TeleFutura was averaging viewership in 596,000 US households per match, while ESPN/ESPN2 was attracting 539,000.

Surpass

ABC, airing selected match on tape delay, was drawing an average of just under 2 million homes.

Thrice already during group play, ESPN/ESPN2 has established a new viewership mark for a football match broadcast on the sister networks.

The first was for America's defeat of Portugal, then by England's win over Argentina, and finally for the US v South Korea.

That 1-1 draw televised by ESPN2 was watched in a record 1.36 million US households.

Viewership for America's defeat of Mexico will almost certainly surpass that figure, perhaps by as many as a million additional homes.

When the numbers are added to factor-in those watching the Spanish language coverage, the final rating could approach the all-time football viewership record for any American network.

That was set at USA 94 when the US was defeated by Brazil.

Pleased

Despite the marked increases and still growing audience numbers, ratings for World Cup 2002 in the US remain small in comparison to other major televised sporting events.

The just-completed NBA Finals averaged 10.8 million households over four games, while the NHLs five final round games drew an average of 3.6 million homes.

Horse racing's Belmont Stakes was seen in 8.1 million households.

Nonetheless, TV executives, for both the English and Spanish language broadcast networks airing World Cup 2002 in the US are pleased by audience figures.

With America now set to face Germany in the quarter finals, another viewership record should be set, as many American's are expected to watch their first-ever football match.


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