Exhibitors in Euro 2012 Loser Nations Hope for Box Office Bump

Euro 2012 logo - H 2012

Movie theater groups in countries eliminated from the European soccer championships expect absent fans to return to the cinema this weekend.

For the winners the nightmare continues, and for the losers, good times beckon. That is how cinema exhibitors see the Euro 2012 soccer championships, which enter the knock-out rounds Thursday.

The hugely popular soccer tournament has been a box office disaster for much of Europe as fans have chosen to watch matches instead of movies. In soccer-mad nations, such as Germany, Italy, Spain and England, box office revenue in the first two weekends of the tournament slipped between 30 and 40 percent. In Poland, one of the two Euro 2012 host nations, ticket receipts plunged 72 percent on the tournament’s opening weekend to just $772,000.

So now, exhibitors in Poland, as well as Russia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Croatia, Ukraine - the second host country of the tournament - and the Republic of Ireland are hoping the national sporting misery of being eliminated from the Euros will be offset by an uptick in box office receipts.

For those eight teams still in the game - England, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, and the Czech Republic - the final whistle on box office impact is still to come.

"Only as an American can I safely say that I would have liked to see Germany, Italy, England and Spain all get eliminated at the group stages," said Howard France, Odeon and UCI executive vp, international corporate development, whose company operates the largest theater chain outside North America with movie houses in the U.K., Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Germany and Austria. "It has a real [and negative] effect on the business, and all our countries are still in it for this upcoming weekend - even Portugal."

But the executive did have a ray of sunshine tinged with green. "Ireland got knocked out so we can safely say box office prospects in that country are looking up this weekend," he said.

Jan Runge, CEO of UNIC, the International Union of Cinemas, told THR that his members are feeling the impact of the Euros, but that his organization has no over-arching directive for making it through the game of two halves.

"Exhibitors know they're in trouble when they're up against a major sporting event,” said U.K. based exhibition specialist Karsten Grummitt. “They try counter-programming up to a point, but there is not much they can really do." Grummitt said most exhibitors in the major European territories are resigned to the impact of the Euro nations soccer finals that take place every four years.

The Euros are particularly damaging to theater programmers because all matches are played in the evenings, and, as the tournament is always held in Europe, the games fall slap bang at the time general screenings take place. It doesn’t help that movies and soccer appeal to very similar core demographics. Young audiences, particularly men, switch from cinema to soccer, at least while the national side is still in the competition.

"But, equally, cinema-going has the widest demographic of any leisure activity," argued Phil Clapp, CEO of the U.K.'s Cinema Exhibitors' Association. "Many of those not interested in football will actively seek out the big screen (during the Euros)."

Still, in most European territories, Euro 2012 soccer beats cinema.

Italy’s cinema monitoring company Cinetel recorded a 40 percent box office drop on the Euro 2012 opening weekend (June 8-10), with a national take of just $3.4 million. Last weekend’s figures were even worse, at $2.7 million, a 44 percent fall on the same weekend last year. Soccer likely wasn’t the only reason for the decline – Italy’s box office is down nearly 10 percent so far this year and recent earthquakes in the Emilia Romanga region have shut down cinemas there, denting theater revenue. But fans of the Italian team, the Azzurri, definitely took their toll on the box office.

In Germany, Rentrak noted a drop of around 40 percent over the first Euro 2012 weekend and close to 43 percent for the second. On both weekends, total ticket sales in Germany were below 700,000 and the total take between $11 million and $13 million.

It was a similar story across most of Europe: Spain noted a 38 percent drop on Euro 2012 opening weekend, the box office in Denmark and the Netherlands saw a 22 percent drop, ticket receipts in the U.K. fell 27 percent and, in Sweden, the Euro opener was accompanied by a 42 percent box office slump.

“There was practically no one there,” Margareta Hallenborg told THR, describing the audience in the cinema she operates in Northern Sweden when Sweden played England last week in the Euros.

But the picture hasn’t been entirely glum. France proved there are greater cinephiles than soccer fans as ticket sales actually went up 3 percent last weekend, according to Rentrak France, despite competition from a Friday night match between France and Ukraine.

The Hollywood Studios, of course, knew the Euros were coming and programmed accordingly. 20th Century Fox released Ridley Scott’s Prometheus in several European territories, including the U.K., Russia, France and Scandinavia, ahead of the tournament, while holding back the film in Germany, Spain and Ireland until well after the Euro 2012 July 1.   Paramount and UIP have taken a similar route with Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, betting (correctly) that the French would choose the Dreamworks animated feature over the soccer but pushing back the film’s release in more soccer-affine territories such as Scandinavia, Italy, Germany and the U.K.

While European exhibitors bemoan the impact of the Euros, they can at least plan for it. Tim Richards, CEO of Vue Cinemas, the third-largest exhibitor in the U.K. and Ireland, said what he fears more than soccer is the sun.

"I'd take a soccer game over sunny weather in the U.K. anytime," Richards told THR. "In Spain, or Italy or anywhere else, people go into theaters when it's hot. If it's nice out in the U.K. they stay out."

Richards and Vue should have reason to cheer this weekend. Not only is Ireland out of Euros 2012, the weather forecast for the British Isles is predicting rain.

For cinemas willing to embrace, not compete, with the popular sporting event, Swedish exhibitor Hallenborg sees another potential sunny side.

"It's a challenge. But perhaps on the other side of things there is an opportunity,” she says. “Cinemas could look to showing the games and turning themselves into a sort of English pub for the evening."

Not something a lot of exhibitors, unlicensed to sell alcohol, could contemplate.

Eric J. Lyman in Rome, Rebecca Leffler in Paris and Pamela Rolfe in Madrid contributed to this report.

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