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Wall Street keeps eye on stocks, not World Cup

Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, June 17 (Reuters) It's business as usual in New York's banks and brokerages where a muted response to the World Cup has allowed companies to turn a blind eye to staff watching soccer matches at their desks or on trading floors.

Even though most of the 64 games are taking place during the US workday and the US team is ranked fifth, interest in the World Cup has failed to reach fever pitch in a nation where basketball and baseball attract a far larger following.

''People here are not watching soccer for soccer's sake but they are just watching to see how the United States does,'' said Jon Gibs, director of media analytics at Nielsen/NetRatings Inc, an Internet traffic measurement company.

A survey by San Diego-based software company St Bernard Software Inc. of about 250 US companies found 15 per cent of IT managers planned to block online access to World Cup footage -- but that could have been an overreaction.

Latest figures from Nielsen/NetRatings found online traffic during the World Cup in the United States was more than 10 times less than during the annual men's college basketball games of the NCAA Tournament in March.

On the day the US soccer team played -- losing 3-0 to Czech Republic -- about 3.2 million people in the United States went to World Cup-related sites compared to about 1 million on other days and versus an online audience of up to 37 million during the NCAA.

Financial services firms in Manhattan said interest was higher than during the 2002 World Cup but still limited.

Some firms have set aside rooms with television sets for people who want to watch matches and most allowed a few televisions on trading floors to be tuned into soccer.

''Sometimes the TV might not be on CNBC (the business news channel) but there has not been any need to issue any mandates on this,'' said Morgan Stanley spokesman Mark Lake.

A spokeswoman for BNP Paribas in New York said employees were told: ''If you want to watch it you can, as long as does not interfere with any work.'' Various pubs across Manhattan are opening at 8 am to screen World Cup games live but catering mostly to non-American residents or visitors who are avidly following the matches -- as is reflected in television viewing.

Spanish-language broadcaster Univision said it has outdelivered the English-language networks ABC, owned by Walt Disney Co, and ABC sister station ESPN2 by about 11 per cent during the first 14 matches, averaging 2.3 million viewers.

But while Wall Street firms report limited interest in the World Cup, demand for coverage of the games from US military serving overseas has been high enough that media mogul Rupert Murdoch has stepped in to ensure they can see the games.

Murdoch, who runs media company News Corp Ltd, has negotiated a deal with the World Cup TV rights holders to piggyback coverage onto the American Forces Network.

''It seemed to Mr. Murdoch to be strange that the forces overseas could not see the games. The contract has now been squared away and from Saturday the games will be shown on all bases overseas,'' said News Corp spokesman Andrew Butcher.

REUTERS AY BD0944

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