EURO 2008. A Summer Fairytale?

Despite the Economic Benefits, Austrians Remain Sceptical About Hosting the Upcoming European Soccer Championships

Cartoons from “Der Ball 08,” Cartoons about EURO 2008, Feb. 5- Jun. 29, Karikaturenmuseum KremsSteiner Landstraße 3a, Krems (Residenzverlag, 02/08)

Cartoons from “Der Ball 08,” Cartoons about EURO 2008, Feb. 5- Jun. 29,
Karikaturenmuseum KremsSteiner Landstraße 3a, Krems (Residenzverlag, 02/08)

Despite the likely economic benefits, Austrians seem less than euphoric about hosting the EURO 2008 Soccer Tournament, many questioning whether the country can handle the massive costs of launching an event of this kind.

A recent study by the market research insititute Sport+Markt in Cologne, Germany, revealed  that only 36 per cent of Austrian adults were interested in holding the EURO 2008 tournament in their own country, as compared with 59 per cent in co-host Switzerland. And while soccer is the clear favorite sport of TV viewers across Europe, more than 2/3 of Austrians would rather watch something else.

Still, the games will come. June 7 to 29, Austria will host the biggest sports event to take place here since the Olympic Winter Games of 1976 in Innsbruck. And while co-hosted with Switzerland, the EURO 2008 finals will be held in the Viennese Ernst Happel- Stadium in the Austrian capital.

The experience of Germany suggests Austria will manage just fine:

“The Football World Cup helped Germany grow 2.5 per cent in 2006,” gushed Michael Glos, Economic Minister of Germany following the event.

“In the long run it has certainly improved the overall standing of our country.” The 2006 World Cup is seen as a role model for international sporting events in the future, as the Germans understood it as a way to promote their country. Therefore, Germany has benefited. The question is whether its smaller neighbor, Austria, the host of the European Football Championships 2008, is capable of doing the same.

Germany had an economic boom in 2006, mostly because of the World Cup. Over 40 million television viewers all over the world enjoyed watching the 64 matches broadcast.  “The World Cup boosted the domestic economy by about €9 or €10 billion,” said the Tourist Board´s managing director, Petra Hedorfer. Before the event had started, the German National Tourist Board anticipated a need for 4.8 to 5.5 million additional hotel rooms, and their expectations were even exceeded.

Nevertheless, the fact that it worked out for Germany does not necessarily mean that the EURO 2008 will boost Austria’s economy as well. Economists all over Europe are sceptical because the country has barely started promotion and ticket sales. For the price of €36.9 million from the city of Vienna, the Ernst Happel- Stadion was renovated to meet the International Football Federation’s (FIFA) standards. Floodlights, a large videowall, a security zone outside the stadium, and 1,040 additional seats, adding up to a total of 51,000, were added.

Still controversial was the razing of  44 very old trees surrounding the stadium – a decision made by the Viennese authorities, not the UEFA, according to an ORF report in Nov. 2006. The occasion of impassioned protest at the time, occasioning Mayor Michael Häupl to describe the protesters as “killjoys.” By Jan. 2008, neither Greenpeace nor the Green Party would comment further. The damage is done; better to move on.

However, economist Bernhard Federer is still very optimistic. “Hundred thousands of people will come to watch the EURO 2008 live,” he said. “Austria will have to face many challenges, but economic benefits are foreseeable.”

A recent study conducted by Sport Econ Austria predicts a €321 million increase in net domestic product (NDP), (corresponding to a 0.15% rise in GDP) and the creation of around 6,000 jobs. Additionally, the Austrian tourist board expects 900,000 visitors, who will stay, on average, for 9.2 nights.

“Prospects are good, and the risk is low,” said Reinhold Mitterlehner, Deputy General Secretary of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, in an interview with the Austrian daily Der Standard.

In order to attract spectators and maximize their comfort, construction has been under way for over two years on an extension of the U2 metro line, currently operating between Karlsplatz and Schottenring adding stops at the Augarten and the Prater with a newly built shopping mall in the station, at at the Stadium itself. The extension will be opened on May 10, less than a month before the start of the event.

Winning could change the gloomy mood,

“I werd narrisch,” (I am going nuts) shouted radio and sports commentator Edi Finger’s, when Austria defeated the defending champion Germany in their last match of the 1978 Football World Cup  in Cordoba, Argentina. Hans Krankl, Austria’s national trainer until 2005, who had been fired when the team failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, redeemed himself by scoring the winning 3-2 goal.

Since then, though, the Austrian team hasn’t had a single win of any significance. Struggling to find their form for the upcoming home-championships, they have hired Josef Hickersberger, former trainer of the team Rapid Vienna. But few think this will be enough. And the economic benefits will hardly console a public dismayed about a national team that can’t play.

Former captain of Austria’s national team (and father of this writer), Hans Dachler thinks it will still be worth it:

“The Austrian team will probably not hold the trophy in their hands on June 29th, but it will still be a lot fun for the public. Maybe this is exactly what is going to motivate the players,” Dachler said. “Nevertheless, hosting the EURO 2008 will be beneficial for the country’s popularity. And maybe it will no longer be confused with Australia!”

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