Fri, Jul 02, 2010 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Four-year World Cup fever envelops fans in Taiwan

By Chris Wang  /  STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

Hundreds of fans have packed more than a dozen outdoor beer bars in Tainan City, their eyes glued to the TV screens broadcasting this year's World Cup soccer tournament.

Meanwhile, in Taipei, many restaurants have also been trying to ride the World Cup fever by setting up big-screen TVs to show live broadcasts and attract customers.

Media coverage of the tourney has increased dramatically in newspapers and on TV news since May, and thousands of fans have been staying up to watch late-night live broadcasts since the tournament began on June 11.

The phenomenon is unusual in the “soccer desert,” as Taiwan is called by local soccer fans, because soccer is a minor sport in the country, where baseball and basketball are most popular, and the national team ranks way down at 167 in the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) world rankings.

Taiwanese cable television operators carry limited soccer broadcasts of the top divisions such as the English Premier League and the European Champions League, but the ratings do not fare well because of a lack of interest and the time difference.

That is why it's surprising that World Cup matches have received such success in Taiwan, where a 1.0 television rating is usually considered “above average” for any program.

“TV ratings for almost all the 10pm games have surpassed 2.0, with a peak rating of 2.4,” said Su Chi-hui, a producer at Era Television, which is carrying this year's World Cup competition.

Su added that most of the games airing at 2am have registered ratings of at least 0.8 percent.

“Keep in mind that those ratings were just for the group stage games, because the latest ratings have not yet been announced,” he said.

Viewership has been much better than the last World Cup four years ago when it was held in Germany, he said, adding that TV ratings at that time did not exceed 2.0 until the knockout stage of the final 16. Su said he expected the ratings to be even higher in the later stages of this year's cup.

However, die-hard soccer fans who regularly follow the game dismissed the phenomenon as “four-year soccer madness,” saying that the fad — including the extensive media coverage and high TV ratings — come and go quickly.

World Cup fever has become a norm, but is not related to the development of the game, local fans said.

“Actually, it's not that unusual. We've seen this pattern every four years. It happened in 2002 and again in 2006, when almost everyone was talking about soccer for one month. It's happening again this year,” said Clement Tsai, a soccer fan. “The next thing you know, no one cares about the sport once the World Cup is over.”

Despite the disgruntled fans, soccer fever has hit the nation on almost every front. And Taiwan is not just an observer on the sidelines, with local textile manufacturers supplying products made from recycled materials for nine of the teams this year, according to a recent report in EP magazine.

Brazil, the Netherlands, Portugal, the US, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Serbia and Slovakia are all wearing Taiwan-made articles, made from 13 million recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles.

Off the pitch, meanwhile, Taiwanese politicians have not missed out on the most talked-about feature of this year's World Cup — the vuvuzela, a raucous plastic horn blown by fans that has become a symbol of South African soccer.

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