When France hosted – and ultimately won — the 1998 World Cup, Parisians were encouraged by the mayor’s office to be nice to our guests. Billboards went up all over town reminding us to smile and heartily say “Bonjour!” Many were skeptical, but that feeling changed quickly. This year, Brazilians, not known for the same frosty exterior as the French, are gearing up for their own World Cup as hosts (and favorites), but the atmosphere is not looking quite so warm. With preparations woefully behind, some stadiums not at completion and a general sense that too much money has been spent on the event, many locals are exasperated with the whole thing before it’s even begun. A crime wave has broken out in Rio and strikes have started with the threat of more looming. Despite all of this, it would be foolhardy to think the country won’t get behind its team and focus on the 12 pitches where the beautiful game will be played over the next month. Indeed, all over the world, fans will start planning their days around kickoff times come Thursday with a projected 1 billion people tuning in to the opening Brazil vs Croatia match. That’s a lot of butts on couches and bar stools — and not in movie theater seats. With that in mind, here’s a look at how the studios strategize around the world where some countries embrace the sport as though it were a matter of life and death, and others don’t get so worked up.
It’s fair to say the U.S. falls into the latter category. Yet, there has been some movement in recent years. ESPN, which aired the Euro Cup in 2012 and the 2010 World Cup from South Africa, has seen increased ratings, and execs this week all but guaranteed additional growth this year (see the full U.S. TV schedule below). When the Americans tied England in the Group C opening game of the 2010 World Cup, a studio exec tells me it did lead to some effect on cinema-going. Roundly, though, while the studios have put the mega sporting event into their international strategic plans over the past decade, industry insiders contend they don’t pay too much mind to the tournament’s domestic impact. Despite the preponderance of kids who play the sport, soccer has just never been massive in the States.
With the major European national teams like Germany, France and Spain, box office is usually down by about 50%-60% in those markets if the home team is playing, and about 20% if they’re not. And yet, Hollywood doesn’t see having a major soccer year as a pass. As one exec says, “You don’t go, ‘it’s the Euro Cup, therefore we get to have a bad year.’ In theory, you might say, ‘It’s World Cup next year, if you’re really expecting us to do $2 billion international, it’s unrealistic.’” However, “Everyone expects it to work itself out. There are losers that were going to be losers anyway, they’re not casualties of the World Cup.”