[Originally written on June 26, 2012, a day ahead of the Euro 2012 semi-finals.]
Some say it’s more difficult to win than the World Cup. Some even call it a World Cup minus Brazil and Argentina. And as it reaches its final stages 12 teams have been eliminated to leave four of the biggest and best footballing nations fighting for one of football’s greatest prizes – the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship – or Euro 2012.
English fans aren’t happy (a quarter-final loss to Italy via the dreaded penalty shootout). Neither are French, Greek or Czech fans. Dutch fans are only just getting over the shock (or are they even shocked?) and Irish fans are still jolly – and probably always will be.
Forget the Eurozone and all its problems and cast your eyes toward Ukraine and Poland for a moment – Europe still dominates world football. Seven of the top-ten ranked countries in the FIFA World Ranking (as of June 2012) are from Europe and they all qualified for Euro 2012, and three of them remain in the competition’s penultimate stage.
The 16 countries that took part in Euro 2012 are home to large numbers of football fans. One study highlights that nearly 70% of Europeans like football to some extent, with 23% calling themselves big fans and 46% a little less concerned but still passionate. 31% of Europeans are not football fans. The biggest football fans are to be found in southern Europe with 42% of Portuguese people saying they are big football fans followed by Italians with 34%, 30% of Spaniards, and Germans and Greeks at 29% and 28% respectively. Surprisingly, only 24% of English people are big fans and only 19% in the Netherlands – and this is after the Dutch had reached the World Cup final only two years ago. Even more surprisingly is that of the two host nations – only 18% of Poles and 14% of Ukrainians claim to be big football fans, whilst France, winners of Euro 2000 and World Cup winners in 1998, have only 12% as big football fans. The survey also indicates that in France 60% of respondents claim they don’t like football at all.
The study had this to say about how they measured opinion: “This survey of consumer attitudes and behaviour in relation to football in the countries participating in EURO 2012 was commissioned by ING and conducted by TNS Nipo. In the Netherlands, there was an online survey among 1,043 respondents who were representative of the population based on age, gender and income. In all the other countries, at least 1,000 respondents representative of the internet population in terms of age and gender were surveyed online.”
The same study measured how much fans were prepared to spend on their team (the survey was conducted by a global finance house, ING). They looked at two measures – how much money and how many free days people would give up, for example, if they could see their team win Euro 2012 in return.
The report summarises: On average, participating Europeans would pay €98 per person to see their country lift the European Championship trophy (33% would pay money – on average €297 per person). The Brits and Irish seem to be the most fanatical (probably from a severe lack of success in the game – the last semi-final the English participated in was in 1996). The average Irish citizen thinks the Euro 2012 title is worth €295 – the average Englishman €207. Southern Europeans also have an above-average fondness for the title: Greeks most of all (€187), followed by Italians (€167), Spaniards (€130) (maybe their recent success – the 2008 Euro Cup followed by the World Cup in 2010 – has dampened their enthusiasm somewhat?) and Portuguese (€112). Poles are exactly on average at €98. Co-host country Ukraine (€43) scores higher than the other Central and Eastern European countries: Croatia (€37), Russia (€22) and, at the bottom of the league, Czech Republic (€14). Although France has the lowest percentage of football fans, France’s €91 is near the European average. Northern European countries, by contrast, are below average: Germany (€65), the Netherlands (€39), Sweden (€34) and Denmark (€23). The latter three’s lower price may help with their early-tournament exits.
With the purchasing power of the Euro different across Europe, the study proceeded to ask people if they would be prepared to surrender 1% of their income for a year in exchange for the title. This, they claimed, would allow comparison of the relative sacrifice made by fans regardless of wage or price levels. The Poles, who have never won a tournament, lead with nearly half the country willing to sacrifice that 1% whereas only 2% of Dutch fans would – this will help with the Dutch team’s early exit!
However, when you change it to days off instead of 1% of salary, the results change. “Almost half (45%) of Europeans are prepared to do this, and they would trade seven days on average. Eastern Europeans top this league. Some 84% of Ukrainian employees would be willing to give up 12 free days on average. Three-quarters (75%) of Poles would give up an average of nine days, and three-quarters (74%) of Russians would even sacrifice 11 days. The Netherlands and France bring up the rear here: one in five French workers (19%) is prepared to give up four days, and one in seven Dutch employees (14%) three days on average.” Again, this measure will help with the Dutch team’s early exit!
Staff absenteeism must also be a concern with employers – we now know that major football championships are also a concern with the Department of Education. The report results show that “One in 10 European workers will take at least a few hours off for the tournament – an average of 28 hours for this group. Ukraine tops the league: a quarter of employees in that country plan to take 39 hours off, on average. Besides the enthusiasm about hosting EURO 2012, the time difference might play a role: many matches don’t start before 21:45 local time, which means it could be a late night and they might need a lie-in. For Russians it’s at least an hour later – so there will be late nights for football fans from Ekaterinenburg to Vladivostok. The 18% of workers who plan to take time off reckon they’ll be absent for 43 hours. That’s a sharp contrast with countries such as Denmark (3% taking 21 hours off) and France (4% taking 16 hours off).”
Aside from wanting their own country to win, fans surveyed also favoured Spain – this could be explained, in part, by the attractive and skilful style of play exhibited by the Spanish as well as having highly skilful players that generally feature in one of Europe’s most-watched leagues – Spain’s La Liga. Most of the Spanish team feature in its two biggest clubs – Barcelona and Real Madrid – so most respondents to the survey will likely be familiar with the Spanish team and remember the Spanish success in the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2008. The Germans, however, are also popular and the most desired final amongst respondents is that of Spain v Germany in a repeat of the last final. This comes as no surprise – the two teams are considered the best two teams in Europe – and Spain are favourites. Amazingly, the report indicates that 90% of Spaniards expect their country to win, with only 60% of Germans feeling the same – might the pressure be too much for Spain?
Spanish and German fans are expecting. Italian and Portuguese fans are hoping. The world is watching.
Originally published in a British science magazine.