Strong ratings for Cup, even with vuvuzelas

The World Cup is causing quite a buzz on U.S. television.

Preliminary estimates indicate the quadrennial soccer tournament

is off to a fast start with viewers, even with the odd,

horn-blowing soundtrack that ESPN has sought to minimize on its

broadcasts.

Saturday’s first-round tie by the U.S. and English teams was

seen by an estimated 13 million on ESPN, the Nielsen Co. said on

Sunday. It was the nation’s most-watched soccer telecast since the

2006 World Cup final between Italy and France, and the most-watched

involving the U.S. men’s national team since 1994.

San Diego, San Francisco and Las Vegas were the cities most

interested in the game, according to the Nielsen figures.

A viewership estimate for the U.S.-England game on the

Spanish-speaking Univision network was not immediately

available.

An estimated 5.4 million people in the U.S. watched the

tournament’s first game Friday between Mexico and the South African

home team on Univision, Nielsen said. ESPN’s telecast of that game

had 2.9 million viewers.

The first-round contests introduced most of the world to the

vuvuzela, a plastic trumpet carried into the matches and blown on

incessantly by thousands of fans. On television, it sounds as if

the game is being played before a nest of angry bees.

It’s louder at the games than it is on the telecast. ESPN is

altering the sound mix on its broadcasts to minimize the crowd

noise, network spokesman Bill Hofheimer said. The network has

accepted it as part of the atmosphere and has made no complaints

about the vuvuzelas, he said.

The sound is driving others crazy, though.

“The constant drone of cheap and tuneless plastic horns is

killing the atmosphere of the World Cup,” wrote John Leicester, an

international sports columnist for the Associated Press. He wrote

that it is drowning out the oohs, aahs and cheers that lend

excitement to the matches.

Danny Jordaan, the World Cup’s organizing chief, said that

“it’s a difficult question but we’re trying to manage it the best

we can.”

“I would prefer singing,” he said.

Plainly, many of the fans take pride in the tradition.

A website informing visitors about South Africa,

www.safrica.info, describes the vuvuzelas as “a beautiful noise

for the beautiful game.”