Football writers count the cost of failure

JONATHAN BROWN, in yesterday’s Independent, looked at the impact England and Scotland’s failures to qualify for this summer’s Euro 2008 will have on broadcasters and newspaper sports desks

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. 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.

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.

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. 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 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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