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Where is Euro 2004?

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January 3, 2009 by Leanne McRae

Currently, on the European continent, the most exciting football event outside of the FIFA World Cup is being played out in Portugal. Euro 2004 is the must-see event for football fans around the world. For those of us who are not part of the European Union, and cannot afford the trip northward, our only hope of witnessing this football-fest rests with television broadcasters.

In Europe all matches are being carried live on free-to-air television. In Australia, we are not so fortunate. SBS usually provides the football staple for fans. Yet, Euro 2004 is being broadcast only on Fox Sports cable television.

With an event that has seen the widest and most extensive coverage through the greatest diversity of media, including mobile phones, WAP, SMS, and the Internet, in Australia the only live free-to-air carrier is SBS radio where matches are broadcast in an array of foreign languages. Sports bars and pubs that might hold screening parties do not have licenses for the opening hours required for the live feed. They usually close by midnight — Euro 2004 begins at 2:00am Australian time.

The inability of Australian free-to-air broadcasters to secure the rights to Euro 2004 is embarrassing in comparison to the popular appeal of this event. European broadcasters, sponsors and organisations have paid extreme amounts to secure access to the tournament. Eight sponsors of Euro 2004 have each paid £39 million for the rights. UEFA has forecast $855 million dollars in revenue from the tournament, 80% of which will be generated from the sale of television broadcast rights.

Australian broadcasters (outside of SBS which is limited in its purchasing power) show no intention of investing this extensively in football. In a country that is sports-mad, football (or soccer) occupies a backwater in terms of policy protocols and grass-roots development. The local and national leagues generate substantive followings amongst fans of the game. Yet their administrative disarray has lead to the neglect of football in the consciousness of many Australians.

In 2002, EUFA approached two agencies — Dentsu and Octagon World Wide Ltd — to handle the distribution of television broadcasting rights to Euro 2004. EUFA requested they ensure that in each ex-European territory a minimum number of matches be shown free-to-air. Vietnam, China, Thailand, South Africa and Japan all receive free-to-air broadcasts. Australian agencies or broadcasters have not been able to secure this caveat.

Australian broadcasting networks embrace AFL with a fervour un-matched amongst other sports. Since the staging of the Rugby Union World Cup in this country they have woken to this potential market share, and as I write the England Vs New Zealand Tri-Nations match is being broadcast on Channel 7. Yet, outside of SBS and The World Game, the coverage of football is mediocre — even absent — at best. Football fans must resort to extreme measures to watch their favourite teams dance across the pitch and at defenders. One Australian fan — David Lewis — was so disenchanted with the absence of live football on Australian television that he purchased the exclusive television rights to the West Ham Vs Crystal Palace Division One play-off final and organised his own screenings at public places around Australia. This was the only way he could see his beloved West Ham play in this match.

The good news is that SBS has secured the full rights to the 2006 FIFA World Cup. There will be no chopping and changing broadcasters as in 2002 when Channel 9 cheated SBS out of crucial finals playoffs. Football fans in Australia will have to wait another two years to experience world-class football live on their screens and free-to-air.