Ever since the deadly Paris terrorist attacks in November, extra attention has been paid to security measures surrounding the Euro 2016 soccer tournament, which kicks off June 10 in France. Prime Minister Manuel Valls is due to provide an update on the status of those measures this week. In the meantime, there’s another concern dogging the football event: Will anyone be able to get to the matches? France is smarting from a gas shortage caused by a recent spate of blockades at the nation’s major refineries, and its transport workers begin striking tonight. If the protests continue, would it mean bigger audiences for broadcasters?
Unions are enraged over proposed reforms to the nation’s labor laws under the administration of President François Hollande. Last week, half of the country’s gas stations were closed as others ran perilously low due to refinery stoppages. The situation has eased somewhat, but further walkouts have not been ruled out. There are differing opinions as to whether the transport strikes will continue as players from 24 countries take to the pitch at 10 stadiums across the Hexagon.
For the moment, football fans can content themselves that there is little belief any matches will be canceled. France’s leading commercial broadcaster TF1, M6 and BeIn Sport are airing the matches locally. A spokesperson for TF1, which has 22 games, tells me: “The matches will take place. We will be there on June 10 for kickoff. It’s not like [the French Open] where they interrupt the tennis (due to rain).” Euro 2016 governing body UEFA agrees that there are no plans to cancel matches. In a statement to Deadline, the org said it is in “constant contact with the French authorities and the host towns, and is working on different scenarios should strikes occur during the tournament.”
But even if the matches are maintained, and putting security concerns aside for the moment, it could be mighty tough to travel to them. Some execs allow that means more viewers watching at home, or in fan zones like the one on the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. (Those don’t typically count toward ratings, much as Nielsen doesn’t take out-of-home viewership into account.) Should crossing cities and towns become an odyssey, folks might opt to stay on the couch. Broadcasters in the surrounding countries also could see a spike. Supporters from England, Germany, Belgium and other nearby nations might choose to stay home if transport becomes an issue. Then again, as one person says: “Soccer fans can be very, very resilient. If they have to walk, they’ll find a way to do something.”
Because the Euro Cup takes place in a different host country every four years, it’s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison with regard to viewership and attendance. In 2012, when the tournament was played in Poland and Ukraine, it drew 1.3M fans to stadiums through the quarterfinals and 4.9M to fan zones that year. TF1 averaged 8.3M viewers for each of the matches it broadcast, despite France being knocked out in the quarters.
ESPN has rights to all 51 matches in the U.S. and will have a team of commentators on the ground for studio segments from Paris and on the pitches. I understand that, as with any major sporting event, there are contingencies in place should access to the stadiums be made difficult.
The national rail operator SNCF starts a rolling walkout tonight, while metro and train workers begin theirs on Thursday. The French Civil Aviation Authority is also due to strike June 3-5. Unions have called for another national day of rallies and strikes on June 14, smack in the first week of the Euro Cup, when Austria meets Hungary in Bordeaux and Iceland faces off with Portugal in Saint Etienne.
Socialist Party Secretary General Jean-Christophe Cambadélis played down the idea that strikes will wreak havoc on the games. According to AFP, he said, “There will be no train or metro strikes during Euro 2016.” The unions are wrong “if they believe for a second that they will take France hostage.”
(Frankly, they already have to a degree. Last week, my normally two-hour drive home from the Cannes Film Festival extended to five as panicked drivers looking to fill their tanks caused snaking lines of cars that spilled onto the highways and blocked villages to a standstill.)
Alain Juppé, the former Prime Minister and leader in opinion polls for the next presidential election, has sounded a different warning. “This is going to go on for the whole of June and perhaps for the whole of July too,” he said Friday.