Almost 50% of people who live in the region spent time glued in front of the TV screen between the 14th of June and the 15th of July. In Russia, the games of the elimination phase of the World Cup were among the sports broadcasts with the highest audience-figures in Russia over the past 20 years, while in Croatia the broadcast of the homecoming event became a record-breaker in terms of length.
A survey conducted by weCAN compared World Cup viewership rates in 14 markets: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia. It ranked countries according to four indicators: the proportion of individuals who watched any World Cup match for at least 5 minutes, the average proportion of people who watched individual matches, the percentage of viewership of the one match that was the most popular among local audience, and the percentage of people who watched the final. By calculating the average of each country’s place in these rankings, the study shows which nation won the championship – in terms of viewership.
It comes as no surprise that the countries whose national team qualified for the World Cup rank highest. Croatia’s audience took the lead, followed by Serbs and Russians. Poles lagged behind Bosnia and Herzegovina, still made it to the top5. Most South-East-European countries are in the leading half of the ranking, while Ukraine, the members of the Visegrád Group (with the exception of Poland) and the Baltic states were taken over by the football craze the least.
44% of the region’s audience – 60% of them men – followed the World Cup
The ranking according to the percentage of people who watched the World Cup for at least 5 minutes displays similar results. In Croatia and Serbia, almost 9 out of 10 people watched the championship, while the same number is pretty high in Poland and Russia as well: 8 and 7, respectively. In total, 131 million people followed the championship to any extent, which is 44% of the region’s population.
The question arises whether the viewership in Croatia would have been this high if the national team had not qualified. Martin Koprek, Media Director of Direct Media, weCAN’s partner agency for media services in Croatia, says that if we considered the finals only, the difference would be smaller than one might think. “In 2010, when Croatia did not qualify for the World Cup, 38% of Croats watched the final between Spain and the Netherlands. In 2014, Croatia was eliminated at the group phase, but even so, 45% of Croats followed the final between Argentina and Germany – basically as many people as this year.”
In Russia, there is no centralized TV-audience monitoring of settlements with less than 100,000 people, therefore, the Russian figure in weCAN’s survey reflects the audience of large and medium-sized towns only. However, according to Alexander Semenov, CEO of weCAN’s partner Mediaplus Russia, we can still have an idea about the size of the entire Russian audience. “Considering that the World Cup was broadcasted by leading Russian TV-channels with a high penetration rate in the countryside, the figures of smaller settlements must have been close to those of larger towns.”
Regarding the positive effect on the viewership in Russia as a result of hosting the championship, the data speak for themselves: while the average audience of individual games was 6.7 million in 2010 and 5.6 million in 2014, it doubled in 2018, reaching 12.5 million people, which means that 18% of the population of bigger towns watched each match.
When it comes to spectators’ gender, it is apparent that the woman-man ratio tends to be more balanced in countries that qualified, meaning that women took more interest in the championship if their team was competing. According to the average of 14 countries, 60% of the viewers were men and 40% women (79 and 52 million people, respectively).
The final is not everything
The broadcasting of the final was the match with the highest viewing-figures in 9 out of 14 countries. Serbs were most interested in the Serbia vs Brazil match, while most Poles wanted to see their team competing against Colombia. The only countries where the viewership figures are somewhat surprising are Croatia and Russia.
Interestingly, according to viewership figures, more Russians were curious about their team playing in the round of 16 (Russia vs Spain) than in the quarter-finals (Russia vs Croatia). Even though the difference between the coverage rates of the two games was only 0.17%, the result is still unexpected and requires explanation. “Russians lost to the Spaniards in the semi-final of the UEFA Euro 2008, and some football fans have been waiting for the moment of revenge for 10 years,” points out Alexander Semenov. Another reason is that many people in Russia spend the weekend in the countryside and therefore are excluded from the sample. (The Russia vs Spain game took place on a Sunday afternoon, and many had already returned to the city, while the Russia vs Croatia match was held on a Saturday evening, when the majority of holiday-makers were still in their summer houses.)
“In any case, the games of the elimination phase of the World Cup were among the sports broadcasts with the highest audience-figures in Russia over the past 20 years. 30% is a very high percentage for sports events in Russian towns. The only game that had a similarly high average audience-rate over the last years as the Russia vs Croatia and the Russia vs Spain ones was the semi-final of the UEFA Euro 2008,” adds Semenov.
Even more surprising are the figures of Croatia. According to Martin Koprek, there are two reasons why the TV-audience numbers of the semi-final (Croatia vs England) exceeded that of the final. “First, the final was the most important match, so people decided to watch it on big outdoor screens, turning off their Nielsen people-meters. Second, it became clear in the 65th minute when France took over with 4:1 that Croatia would lose the game. If this had become evident later, or if there had been some extra time, more people would have stayed to see the result, including those who are not particularly interested in football.”
Making Croatian media history
The most memorable event in Croatia – media-wise – happened on the 16th of July, after the World Cup ended and Zagreb welcomed the national team homecoming. Croatian public television station HTV 1 started to air the World Cup Zabivaka show (named after the official mascot of the 2018 FIFA World Cup) at midday, to cover the Croatian team’s trip from Moscow to Zagreb and the welcoming event on Zagreb’s main square that was planned to end at 5 pm. When the plane landed and players boarded an open-top bus to start their 20-kilometer trip to the main square, the whole city turned into festival mood. More than 550,000 people were greeting the players along the road and eventually, the bus-tour lasted more than 6 hours.
It was the first time in Croatian media history when the daily news was not broadcasted on HTV 1, and the show became a record-breaker in terms of length, ending after 10 hours at 10 pm. 1.7 million people – 42% of the total population – watched the broadcasting of the event on television for an average 2 hours.