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World Cup 2006 more popular but audience growth slowing

LONDON - Viewing for live and time-shifted broadcasts of the 48 matches during the group stages across 38 markets was up 8% for World Cup 2006 compared with World Cup 2002, writes Kevin Alavy, senior analyst at Initiative Futures.

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However, the rate of audience growth varied significantly between the first, second and third sets of group matches.

The group stage can be fraught with tension with teams desperate not to go home so soon after arriving at the World Cup. All teams play three matches, once against each of the other teams in their group. Only the top two teams in each group qualified for the next round, with the other two catching an early flight home.

While the players want easy victories, fans prefer to see tightly fought, competitive soccer with lots of goals. The degree of competitive balance between the teams helps to explain global viewing trends during the group stage.

During the first 16 games, average audiences were up by 20%, with audience growth fastest in key soccer markets in Europe and South America. Viewing rose fastest there because matches were broadcast at much more convenient times of day than during World Cup 2002 in Japan/South Korea.

While time zones have been a positive effect on global viewing, growing differences between the performances of the best and worst teams has lowered TV audiences. In 2006, eight teams were so dominant in their group that they had already qualified for the second round after winning their first two matches. In 2002, only two teams were in that position after the first two games.

The lower number of goals scored has also had a negative effect on audience figures. Only 117 goals were scored in the group stage in World Cup 2006, 10% less than the 130 goals at the equivalent stage of World Cup 2002.
As a result, the rate of audience growth in World Cup 2006 has slowed as the tournament has progressed, with the third group matches attracting average audiences 3% lower than at the equivalent stage of World Cup 2002.

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