Sunday, December 26, 2004

Euro 2004 is King of the World!

Media Guardian notes the findings of a ViewerTrack report (from media agency Initiative Worldwide) that shows the Euro 2004 final easily eclipsing the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games "to win the title of the most watched sporting event of the year." The final, between Portugal and Greece (Greece won in a huge upset), was watched by 153 million TV viewers around the world. The audience spike was helped by a huge rise in the number of Asian viewers. The report notes that this cements "football's place as the most popular sport in the world."

Most popular everywhere, it seems, except the USA. In this country we couldn't even get the final -- or, for that matter, any of the group matches -- on free TV. All the matches were on Pay-TV, which is of course something that deeply offends my European public service sensibilities. When my partner and I were in Boston in June to see a Red Sox-Phillies game, we stopped into the bars along Boylston Avenue to see if we could catch a Euro 2004 match. Every bar was charging $20 for a seat. "Get stuffed!" or something to that effect was my response. The weekend after -- the weekend of the final -- we were in Ontario for a friend's wedding reception. Now while neither he nor his lovely bride were into footie (plus they had other things on their mind!), it was clear from the Canadian press, and from conversations with people up there, that people were treating the Euro 2004 final quite seriously, especially when it turned out that Greece and Portugal were in the final. There are huge communities of Greeks and Portuguese in Toronto, and their enthusiam was seeping out into the broader Canadian public sphere -- unlike the US, where the vast majority of people simply had no clue what was going on in the Iberian Peninsula.

I'd also had a positive Euro 2004 experience in Canada the week previously. I'd landed at Toronto airport from Scotland (waiting for my flight back to Rochester) just in time to see the England-Portugal quarter-final. I watched the match in a bar, and later got to see the end of extra time, including the “silver shot” component and the penalty shoot-out. We watched it on an airport bar TV just past security, with a large group of various nationalities –- none of whom seemed to particularly want England to win! It was a tough game, no doubt – Sol Campbell should really have been given that headed goal right at the end, but hey, whatareyagonnado? England were truly gutted as they went out on penalties against Portugal. Write up another page to England's “we wuz robbed/the world is against us” litany, going back to Maradona’s Hand of God, Beckham being sent off against Argentina in '98, England cursed during penalty shootouts, all that stuff.

Anyway, never mind England; the broader point is that even at the airport, everyone was really into that game -- including the Canadian airport staff, most of whom were of Greek, Italian, or Portuguese (or Scottish) heritage. A lot of them are like myself -- not huge football fans, but certainly very happy to get involved in the big matches, even when their own country/team isn't involved. I'm left wondering once again why it is that football/soccer is not treated seriously in the States. Why is it that the world's most-watched sporting event of 2004 can be no more than a tiny blip on the radar screen of the world's most powerful nation? What's it going to take to make the USA a true soccer nation -- and will television ever break its fascination with Major League sports just a little, to let in the true world game?


Post a Comment

<< Home