Small army of rugby fans make perfect match for advertisers

They're macho, upwardly mobile, intelligent and rich. And, as Saturday's Rugby World Cup final approaches, the quality of the television audience is good news for broadcasters. The trouble is, it's relatively small.

They're macho, upwardly mobile, intelligent and rich. And, as Saturday's Rugby World Cup final approaches, the quality of the television audience is good news for broadcasters. The trouble is, it's relatively small.

Almost 9 million Britons tuned in to see England triumph over France in Sydney on Sunday, while football matches of a similar status have attracted at least double that.

But ITV, which has the contract to televise the World Cup, was upbeat. A spokesman said: "We're very pleased. It's not just the numbers that are healthy, it's the composition of the audience, which is basically affluent males, who are the ideal target for cars and beer. The rugby is attracting up to three times the normal ratio in that market, and there's a high proportion of ABC1s. When you buy rugby [television rights], you know that you're getting that coming as part of the package."

Media analysts agreed. A straw poll of specialist space-bookers yesterday suggested that a 30-second commercial for Saturday's final against Australia at 9am could cost an advertiser between £125,000 and £150,000. An analyst at one prominent London firm said: "That's quite hefty but you're talking about premium targeting. The advertisers know the audience is made up of people who buy expensive motors, top-brand razors, whatever, and they'll pay for it."

But some critics suggested that the figures were poor given England's potentially momentous achievement in Australia. And when set against the biggest viewing figures achieved in Britain for sporting events, they fall short.

England's 1966 football World Cup win was apparently watched by 27 million people, although the BBC acknowledges that its method for counting viewers was less reliable then.

Recent events such as England's football World Cup quarter-final against Argentina in 1998, which was accurately measured by the ratings body, Barb, drew 23.8 million viewers. The ice skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean had 23.95 million viewers on the edge of their seats in 1994 when they won a bronze medal in the Lillehammer Winter Olympics.

The ITV spokesman admitted that rugby "has simply never done those kind of figures". Britain's highest television rugby audience was 13.6 million, on ITV, for the 1991 World Cup final between England and Australia at Twickenham.

Football will always come out on top. The 8.8 million peak against France last weekend, at 9am on a Sunday, was just over half the 17.1 million who watched England play Brazil in last year's football World Cup quarter-final, at 7.30am on a Friday.

England's players can at least take solace from the fact that some landmark sporting events simply do not draw 10-figure audiences. Steve Redgrave's historic fifth Olympic gold rowing medal in 2000 was watched by 6.6 million at 12.30am. ITV expects up to 10 million viewers to watch England play Australia. Then, no doubt, have a shave, go out for a drive and down a lager.

SPORTING AUDIENCES: TV'S TOP 10

Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier: 27.3 million
Boxing heavyweight title fight, 1971

England v West Germany: 27m
Football World Cup final, 1966

England v Portugal: 26.5m
Football World Cup semi-final, 1966

England v West Germany: 26.3m
Football World Cup quarter-final, 1970

Man Utd v Benfica: 26m
Football European Cup final, 1968

Leeds v B Munich: 24.2m
Football European Cup final, 1975

Torvill and Dean winning bronze: 23.95m
Ice skating Winter Olympics, 1994

Liverpool v FC Brugge: 23.9m
Football European Cup final, 1978

England v Argentina: 23.8m
Football World Cup quarter-final, 1998

England v West Germany: 23.7m
Football European Championship, qualifiers, 1972

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