In the country where football is played with the hands and the biggest world championship is a baseball event, World Cup fever is gradually taking hold -- at least that's what US broadcasters are hoping.
They'll be watching -- but who else? US TV companies are hoping that millions more will
Television and radio networks across the US are expecting such a demand for the soccer showcase that all 64 games of the 2006 World Cup in Germany will be broadcast live across the country, where soccer is gaining currency as a viewing spectacle amid a large Hispanic following.
While the world's most popular sport remains a minority interest in the US market compared with commercial juggernauts like American football, buying up World Cup television rights in the States is becoming an increasingly expensive proposition.
For the national ABC network and ESPN sports network -- both owned by the Walt Disney company -- the coming tournament in Germany will mark their fourth straight shared broadcast of a World Cup.
Soccer fans in the US will be spolied for choice
For the first time, the games will be televised in high definition and ABC will broadcast 12 matches live -- a significant change from the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea when the network only showed the final live. ESPN will carry 21 matches live, with the remaining 31 games to be shown on ESPN2.
Investment in the future
In November, ABC and ESPN announced that they had also secured the US English-language rights for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments as part of a $100 million (128 million euro) package -- more than twice the price paid for the 2002 and 2006 tournaments.
The cost of the US Spanish-language rights have shown a similar inflationary trend, with Univision forking out over $325 million for the next two tournaments, an increase of $200 million on the sum it stumped up for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Of the gross US audience of 85 million that watched the 2002 tournament, around 80 million were Hispanic. The overall figure would probably have been higher but for the time difference with Asia that meant most matches were played in the middle of the night.
Foreign language broadcasters find their niche
Koreans like their soccer
Another notable broadcaster in the US market this time around will be KBS World, a Korean-language subscription channel available via satellite or digital cable in some areas.
Although its audience is tiny compared to the number of Hispanic viewers, KBS will show 56 games live and 8 games via short tape delay.
For those soccer fans on the move or otherwise away from their television sets, this year's World Cup will, for the first time, be available on satellite radio.
XM, the largest US satellite radio service with more than six million subscribers, launched a dedicated World Cup Soccer channel last month. The channel will provide English and Spanish-language commentary of most games in the competition.