Considering that the 24 ’02 World Cup matches on ESPN averaged 963K HHs (equal to 1 5:30am ep of Nick At Nite’s "Full House" last month), why are ad sales tracking 300-400% higher this year? Better telecast hours over ’02’s event in South Korea and an improving US squad have helped, said Dan Courtemanche of Soccer United Marketing, which holds the English-language broadcast rights. Advertisers like Budweiser, adidas, T-Mobile and Gatorade also like the World Cup’s primary demo: 18-34 and fairly affluent, said John Rash of ad agency Campbell Mithun. But it’s definitely quality over quantity, as he expects ratings to rival a mid-season MLB game. Others are remarkably optimistic, even considering the tepid ratings in ’02, which "exceeded our expectations," said ESPN spokesman Mac Nwulu, who spoke with us while watching a Fri match. He says linear ratings should not be the bellwether for success, pointing to all the Disney-owned platforms that will carry the games. That’s one of the reasons the Mouse shelled out $100mln for the English-language World Cup rights for ’10 and ’14 (also including 2 women’s World Cups and 2 Confederation Cups)-a 150% increase over the last deal. MSOs also are starting to pander to the soccer audience as well. Comcast launched ESPN2 HD and TeleFutura in several markets, just in time for Fri’s opening Germany-Costa Rica tilt. Cox created presentations and sales one- sheets for its markets to promote Cup games, said spokesperson Stephanie Davis. And several markets including San Diego have added highlights and re-broadcasts on their Web sites.

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