How Macca mucked it up for the media too
Journalists and players are missing out on Euro 2008, but the former England boss will be making the trip after all. Jonathan Brown reports
Monday 26 May 2008
Many charges have been levelled against Steve McClaren, the hapless former England boss whose downcast form sheltering under his FA umbrella on the Wembley touchline last November came to symbolise the tarnished summer dreams of a once proud sporting nation.
In the aftermath of defeat against Croatia, the "Wally with the Brolly" as he was exquisitely dubbed by the Daily Mail, faced a further deluge of criticism. He was accused not just of playing his "Golden Generation" of players out of position and failing to step up to the leadership plate, but of extinguishing the joyful prospect of a collective experience looked forward to by millions of fans as they prepared to party and shop their way through three glorious weeks of top-class football.
Despite the passage of time, the brickbats have continued to fly as the implications for the inability to qualify have grown increasingly apparent. England's failure, exacerbated by the absence of the rest of the home nations from the Euro 2008 finals, due to kick off in Basle next month, is expected to cost the economy between 1bn and 2bn, accounting for as much as half a percentage point off the UK gross domestic product.
The big losers will of course be the brewers and the pubs, with some 35 million pints now going unquaffed. The gloss also came off the bookmakers' summer. For retail chain Sports World, England's failure wiped 70m off its balance sheet in lost sales. Wigan-based JJB Sports was also badly hit and last month announced the closure of 72 stores with the loss of around 800 jobs.
This pain has percolated through the wider economy. Nationwide, the England team's official sponsor, already struggling to cope with the effects of the credit crunch, was forced to shelve much of its marketing strategy planned for this summer. It is the same for a myriad of other brands, from chocolate to car makers, all of whom had been hoping to boost sales with sustained marketing drives in the run up to June.
The impact on the media has been equally dramatic. According to Claudine Collins, group press director with MediaCom, the defeat against Croatia cost some newspapers an instant 1m in shelved advertising revenue.
While the popular newspapers have been worst affected, the quality press has been hit too, and both will miss out on anticipated football-related summer circulation boosts. "Everyone has been affected by this. From a business point of view, newspaper sales will be affected. Circulation can always be expected to rise a few per cent on the back of a successful England run. We are looking on the bright side though, at least we have the Champions League final even if it is just one day," she says.
It is the same story in television. Estimates suggest the home nations' absence from the tournament will cost ITV upwards of 10m in lost advertising revenue due to reduced audience interest. That is in addition to the hefty fee, shared with the BBC, for the rights to televise the tournament. A measure of the reduced interest is ITV's decision not to show the final. ITV publicist James MacLeod puts on a brave face: "We believe there is a demand for international football played at the highest level. Some of the best players in Britain will be on display Fabregas, Torres, Ronaldo, Henry. Football fans are increasingly aware and interested in the European game," he says.
But without the presence of the Three Lions or the Tartan Army, 20-million-plus viewing spikes will be noticeable by their absence. Media attention will now be focused on just how low viewing figures will fall for unglamorous clashes of the Switzerland v Turkey variety. But while ITV concedes that it has had to bow to the inevitable commercial pressures and scale back the extent of its coverage, at the BBC there seems to be no such sentiment.
Already sending a team of 437 to cover the Olympics in Beijing later in the summer more than the number of GB athletes the corporation has found sufficient manpower reserves to dispatch more than 100 staff to Austria and Switzerland. Among them, much to the delight of England fans, will be none other than the wally now clutching the licence-payers's lolly, Steve McClaren himself, who will be sampling the Alpine air as he provides "expert analysis" for Radio 5 listeners. Though the prospect of a tournament with no patriotic interest prompted BBC Director of Sport, Roger Mosey, to ponder in his blog "Euro 2008: So who will be watching?," the BBC says it was pleased with the turnout at its press briefing to outline its coverage plans, which includes all live matches in high definition, with highlights packages available on the new iPlayer and a clutch of web and mobile-phone-based services.
But Matt Wilson, promotions director at talkSport, says his network had already taken a number of contingency measures, having never been fully convinced that McClaren's reign would end in glory.
While it would normally broadcast all games, it will now only cherry-pick the best of the matches. "Typically we would be working with a single sponsor for a match. When England are involved we would expect to work with six. That is not the way it will be this year," he says.
Newspapers are also faced with trimming their coverage of the tournament. The first casualties will be the sports-news correspondents who spent a memorable World Cup summer in Germany two years ago cruising the autobahns in pursuit of the latest on the shopping exploits of the England Wags.
But the football writers will suffer too. One hack, now looking forward to a summer with the family, said most desks were cutting back on the numbers they would send, dispatching only chief writers and top commentators to do the best matches.
"It's a huge disappointment," he says. "When England are involved it is a huge story and all journalists like working on big stories. This year it just won't be the same."
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