It's not surprising that the recently concluded Euro 2012 soccer tournament (technically, the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship) attracted plenty of attention on television; after all, the European Championships only come around every four years and tend to provide some of the best soccer outside of the World Cup, and there's a strong global audience for soccer. It is notable that the 2012 tournament drew much better ratings than its 2008 predecessor, though, and it did so not just in heavily-involved countries, such as finalists Spain and Italy, but also in European countries with teams that didn't make it that far and in North American countries. That suggests a growing market for world soccer, and not just from the ranks of those who support a country in contention.
Country-by-country breakdowns of those ratings, such as the one Bobby McMahon provided over at Forbes Tuesday, reinforce how Euro 2012's success was beyond previous tournaments and distributed through a wide range of countries. Yes, the Spanish and Italians tuned in in unbelievable numbers; The Hollywood Reporter indicates that 90 percent of Spaniards tuned in at some point with a strong peak of 17.9 million for the third goal in Spain's 4-0 final win (although, oddly enough, that was slightly below the 18.1 million peak that tuned in for the penalty shootout in the semifinal with Portugal). 22.4 million Italians tuned in for the final, an 81.7 percent share.
Ratings for the final were dominant even in countries that weren't involved: 20.3 million (a 56.2 percent share) watched in Germany, whose team lost to Italy in the semifinals. 15.2 million (just below 50 percent of the TV audience) tuned in in Britain, which saw England lose in the quarterfinals and Scotland and Northern Ireland fail to qualify for the tournament entirely. It wasn't a good tournament for the Dutch, who saw their highly-regarded side crash out in the group stage without a point, but they kept watching: 5.2 million viewers tuned in to the final in the Netherlands, 51.5 percent of the TV audience. Losing quarterfinalist France also saw 13 million viewers (a 48 percent share) for the final. On the whole, THR estimated that about 50 percent of the pan-European television audience tuned in for the final. European ratings for the whole tournament weren't easy to find, but the ones that were available were strong as well; for example, THR added that an average of 9.1 million Italians watched any particular tournament game. Those massive ratings across Europe may not actually do a ton for broadcasters' bottom lines in and of themselves, but they do illustrate that this tournament (and the final in particular) is about much more than just the teams specifically involved.
That applies double when it comes to the ratings from Canada and the USA. What's particulaly notable there is just how much those numbers have skyrocketed from the 2008 tournament. The most remarkable story comes north of the border, where TSN (English) and RDS (French) combined for an average audience of 3.04 million viewers and a peak of 3.6 million viewers during the final, more than double the average of 1.3 million those channels combined for the 2008 final. The final was no one-off, either; strong ratings news in Canada started early and continued throughout the tournament, with an average audience of 862,000 tuning in across five channels (TSN, TSN2, CTV, RDS and RDS2), over twice the 386,000 that tuned into TSN, Sportsnet and RDS on average during Euro 2008 coverage. The U.S. numbers weren't as dramatic, but they were still impressive; ESPN set a record for a Euro final with an average audience of 4.068 million viewers, up eight percent from the 2008 final, and its tournament coverage drew an average of 1.3 million viewers, a 51 percent increase over the 859,000 average in 2008. The final mattered beyond Europe and North America, too; consider that more than 15,000 tweets per second were sent globally when Spain scored the fourth goal, a sports record and about 3,000 more than the peak during Feburary's Super Bowl.
Why was this tournament so successful? Well, there are lots of potential explanations. Some of it might be that sports ratings have generally risen since 2008 thanks to changes in monitoring technology, but that's far from the only element at play here. There was some fantastic offensive soccer on display, especially in the final, a far cry from the 1-0 win Spain slugged out over Germany in the 2008 final. There were some spectacular offensive combinations too, with the 22 headed goals scored a long ways beyond the 15 in 2008 and the 17 in 2004. Many global stars were prominent throughout the tournament, including Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Spain's Andres Iniesta and Italy's Mario Balotelli, and that certainly didn't hurt. There were country-specific factors too, though.
In Europe, the ongoing economic issues may have actually helped, as soccer could perhaps have provided a distraction from people's problems, particularly with the success of financially-troubled countries like Spain, Italy and Greece. Those issues undoubtedly helped the tournament get even more coverage in the news and business sections of papers, particularly for matchups like Germany-Greece that carried a whole new context thanks to ongoing political drama.
In the U.S., it probably helped that there have been strong developments on both the national team and professional league fronts in soccer since 2008, and ESPN put substantial resources into promoting their Euro 2012 coverage across their platforms, as Matt noted earlier.
On the Canadian front, the establishment of MLS franchises in Montreal and Vancouver has done a lot for soccer's profile, and TSN promoted this extensively with commercials, radio coverage, web spots and more; they also had a superb studio panel in Luke Wileman, Jason de Vos and Darren Anderton providing pre- and post-match commentary, halftime analysis and perhaps most importantly, excellent short previews that were given tremendous play on the nightly SportsCentre shows. Everyone knew this tournament was going on, and there probably was a larger population of potential soccer fans out there willing to tune in than there was in 2008.
However, it's the strong ratings for the final not only in North America, but around all of Europe, and the widespread Twitter interest (again, more volume than the Super Bowl!) that may be the most promising for soccer on the whole. Spain-Italy wasn't merely two nations and their supporters vying for a European title, but rather a global soccer showcase, and neutral audiences in particulary may have been more receptive than in the past. If that trend continues to grow, the ceiling for the beautiful game could be sky-high.