By Rachel Joyner
PARIS, June 17 (Reuters) - France is once again gripped by football fever -- a year after the men's national team triumphed on the world stage, the women's team is cruising through the group stages and smashing TV audience records in their own World Cup.
Stadiums are selling out, and TV broadcasters are bumping up the price of advertising slots as millions tune in. Les Bleues' star players are fast becoming household names.
TF1, France's main broadcaster for the tournament, had expected the team's opening match to draw up to 5 million viewers. Instead, numbers peaked at 10.9 million, while almost 1 million followed the game on Canal+, a pay-TV unit of Vivendi VIVA.PA.
TF1 TFFP.PA, owned by family-controlled conglomerate Bouygues BOUY.PA, described the numbers as a French record for a women's soccer match.
But the records did not stop there -- in France's second group game against Norway, domestic viewer numbers spiked to 11 million on TF1 - on par with the number of people who watched the men's opening matches in 2018.
The French women play Nigeria on Monday in their last group game before the knock-out stages.
The surprising level of interest prompted TF1 to drive up the cost of advertising slots by 50-60 percent the day after France's first match, Le Parisien newspaper reported.
Thirty-second slots during the half-time break of France's group stage matches, initially slated at 73,000 euros, now cost 116,000 euros, it said.
The surge in viewer numbers extends beyond the French games. England's match against arch rival Argentina drew nearly 1.5 million viewers on TF1, while up to 1.1 million people have tuned in to watch the United States.
Women's soccer is steadily growing in popularity in many parts of the world.
Soccer's governing body FIFA has said it has received a record number of expressions of interest for hosting the next women's tournament, in 2023, including a joint bid by South Korea and North Korea football associations.
(Reporting by Rachel Joyner Editing by Richard Lough/Keith Weir)
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