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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » July 30, 2012
EURO 2012
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The Agony and the Ecstasy
July 30, 2012   
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Poland didn’t even make it out of the group stage, let alone to the finals of Euro 2012. But for the first time in years the national squad had a real chance—winning their last match would have seen them through to the quarterfinals.

For three weeks, the whole country was decked out in red-and-white, the national colors. When the Polish anthem was being sung by a hundred thousand-strong crowd in the fan zone, there were few without a tear in their eye or a shiver running down their spine.

Fans, however, can be fickle. And sports commentators, journalists and other assorted experts also tend to change their tune overnight. That’s why, as the tournament unfolded, underdogs became favorites and yesterday’s heroes were dismissed as fleeting stars the next day. The Russians laid claim to the championship after their impressive victory over the Czech Republic, but ended their Euro 2012 campaign at the group stage. Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal was criticized during the first two matches, only to be praised to the skies for his performance in the quarterfinal versus the Czech Republic—and then criticized again. Mario Balotelli of Italy was hailed as a soccer genius one day only to be labeled as wayward and unpredictable the next day—a player whose temper no coach has been able to control. Still, for 24 days, millions of people in Poland and hundreds of millions worldwide couldn’t take their eyes off the championships.

Bottom to top, top to bottom
Big events create big new stars. Or make old ones fade. Euro 2012 did both. It uncovered several big talents, like Balotelli, Spain’s Jordi Alba, and—hopefully—Poland goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń, while old stars such as Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko—and some would say Italian playmaker Andrea Pirlo—faded before our very eyes, even though both players did well in the tournament.

Spain and Germany invariably topped the bookmakers’ charts, and the Netherlands, Russia, Portugal and Italy were also mentioned among the favorites, depending on the stage of the tournament.

For Poland, things started like never before but ended as usual. Yet, something has changed. Not only the approach of fans—because the red-and-whites could count on them also when they played in Germany in 2006 and in Austria and Switzerland in 2008, but the Polish team has changed as well. They evidently tried harder than ever, and the tears in the eyes of Przemysław Tytoń or Damien Perquis were less a sign of bitterness—over the fact that they failed to take the opportunity to prove their value as players and thus increase their paychecks—and more of a sign of regret that they let down their fans. Forward Robert Lewandowski expressed that regret on television, and captain Jakub Błaszczykowski during a meeting with the president, when he admitted that the team did not “rise to the challenge.”

But the fans who, at three o’clock in the morning, waited for the players as they returned to their Warsaw hotel from Wrocław after their defeat to the Czech Republic, seemed to be less disappointed than the players themselves.

La furia Roja
Spain defended the title of European champions for the first time in the tournament’s history. No other team has done that for 52 years. But the Spanish players did a lot more than that under coach Vicente del Bosque: they won their third big tournament in four years. And in great style. In the final, goalkeeper Iker Casillas played the 100th victorious match in his career, and his team beat the Italians for the first time in 92 years at a major tournament. The Spaniards’ style of play, based on quick, short passes and ball possession, loved by some and criticized by others, passed the test at the stadiums in Poland and Ukraine. Some soccer experts’ predictions that the Spaniards were too bored with winning tournaments one after another to muster enough motivation to win Euro 2012 did not come true.

Fans rise to the challenge
Although it was Ireland fans who got a special award from the European soccer body UEFA for supporting their team, Poland fans did a good job too. Cars decorated in national colors, Polish flags on balconies, people in red-and-white jerseys—all this showed that patriotism is not just an empty word from a history class.

The Polish fan zones in Warsaw, Gdańsk, Poznań, Wrocław and Cracow were also something new. They attracted a combined 3,187,000 fans, an all-time European championship record. A total of 652,000 fans from 110 countries watched the matches at the stadiums in the host cities.

Foreign visitors were enthusiastic about the atmosphere of the tournament and the way in which it was organized. An overwhelming 92 percent of visiting fans declared that, after coming home, they would recommend Poland to their friends as an attractive country worth visiting. Almost 80 percent said they would visit Poland again in the future.

Who Benefited?
Poland was one of the event’s two hosts, alongside Ukraine, and its image improved markedly during the three-week tournament, not only in the eyes of foreign soccer fans and tourists but also the Poles themselves. Nearly 90 percent of the latter say they are proud of the way in which Poland prepared for and hosted the event.

Specifically, who in Poland benefited from Euro 2012, both financially and otherwise? Almost everyone did, though some probably more than others. For example, the owners of the facilities used by the participating soccer teams as their team bases recorded a several-fold increase in profits. But those who profited also include taxi drivers, restaurant owners, souvenir vendors and even escort agencies.

Let’s have a drink
Restaurant owners say Euro 2012 made their sales rise severalfold compared with the same period in previous years. On match days, the beer supplies of some would run dry after just 15 minutes or so regardless of how large they were.

“We placed our orders very optimistically, but even so we were not prepared for customers drinking so much bear and so fast,” one Warsaw restaurant owner said.

The average soccer fan spent four hours in a restaurant on match days—an hour before a match, two hours watching the game, and an hour after the match. But some restaurants would generate equally high revenues from those fans who watched the match at a stadium and then came to the restaurant to either celebrate or drown their sorrows. Russian fans in particular were a goldmine for Warsaw restaurateurs—as well as taxi drivers—leaving them disappointed when the Russian team crashed out of the tournament early on and failed to make it to the quarterfinals.

Sobering up
As alcohol sales went through the roof, many ended up having too much to drink. On match days, Polish drunk tanks had far more visitors than usual. Warsaw’s Kolska Street establishment, for example, recorded a 10-percent increase in the number of admissions in June compared with a year earlier, with all records broken on June 12, when Poland played against Russia.

“On the day of the match, the city patrol force and police brought us 139 people, twice as many as usual because the daily average for other months is around 70,” said Elżbieta Kossakowska, director of the Kolska Street drunk tank, officially known as the Warsaw Center for Intoxicated Persons.

The doubtful pleasure of spending a night at Kolska Street carries a price tag of zl.250.

Public television broadcaster profits
Poland’s public television broadcaster TVP has kept mum on how much it paid for the right to broadcast all Euro 2012 matches, saying it’s a commercial secret. It is no secret, however, how much TVP earned on commercials aired during Euro 2012.

TVP’s advertising revenues from all Euro 2012-related broadcasts totaled zl.122.5 million. The most revenue came from The Coca-Cola Company, zl.12.5 million, followed by zl.11.07 million from McDonald’s, zl.7.3 million from Hyundai-Kia Group, zl.7.2 million from Sharp, and zl.6.7 million from Żywiec Group.

TVP’s revenues from Euro 2012 commercials were much higher than what private broadcaster Polsat had earned from its broadcasts of Euro 2008 matches in Switzerland and Austria four years ago. Polsat generated zl.85 million from selling airtime at the time.

Analysts say TVP could have sold more airtime, but its high prices discouraged buyers. Still, those who decided to buy TVP airtime should be satisfied. The Euro 2012 matches enjoyed exceptionally high viewership, at 7.5 million on average, with more than 13 million people watching each of the three matches played by Poland. The match with Russia had the largest audience, at 14.68 million, more than ski-jumping competitions with now-retired champion Adam Małysz at the peak of his popularity several years ago.

Flying high
Polish airports recorded a sharp rise in traffic during the tournament. Almost 10,000 fans arrived by air to the southwestern city of Wrocław, which hosted three matches. The Wrocław airport says it handled 1,166 operations, including 450 on the days when the matches were played. Friday, June 8, when Russia played against the Czech Republic, was the busiest day for the airport. Several thousand fans arrived in the city that day on both scheduled and chartered flights and by private jets.

Dariusz Ku¶, CEO of Port Lotniczy Wrocław SA, the company which operates the airport, said, “The single night when our airport was used by Russian planes landing in Wrocław one after another before the match with the Czech Republic was enough for us to recoup the costs we had incurred on modernizing the airport many times over.”

Places with a cult following
For three weeks, all news programs by Spanish television stations and many broadcasts by other television stations across Europe would begin with the anchors struggling to pronounce the name of Gniewino, the small village in Poland’s northern Kashubia region where the Spanish team was based throughout the tournament. Reports from another small Polish village, Opalenica, near the midwestern city of Poznań, where the Portuguese were based, ended somewhat earlier. But the town of Wieliczka, outside the southern city of Cracow, where the Italian soccer players were based, continued to attract international attention until the very end—also because one of the Italians, media darling Mario Balotelli mysteriously disappeared and could not be found for a while after his team returned to Wieliczka following their defeat by Spain in the final.

The Portuguese paid 33,000 euros for each day of their stay at their luxury hotel in Opalenica. The Spanish paid seven times less for their stay in Gniewino. But both centers benefited from far more than just the invoices they put out. Opalenica and Gniewino had never seen and will probably never again see such a congestion of outside broadcast vans, satellite dishes and TV cameras. And the pizzeria visited by Balotelli and the barber’s shop in Opalenica where Cristiano Ronaldo had his hair styled will likely be cashing in on these celebrity visits for years.

Long-term investment
Poland spent over zl.94 billion on all manner of construction and modernization projects in the run-up to the tournament. A number of multifunctional stadiums, airports, railway stations, highways and expressways were either built from scratch or modernized.

“None of these projects was carried out exclusively because of Euro 2012. They will serve us for many years,” says Mikołaj Piotrowski, director of communications at the PL.2012 company. “But the preparations for the tournament contributed significantly to speeding up the completion of the projects.”

Today it takes some 1.5 hours less to travel from Poznań to Gdańsk, from Wrocław to Gdańsk, and from Warsaw to Gdańsk. Thirty-six railway stations have been modernized and expanded. The handling capacity of Poland’s airports has increased markedly—by 79 percent in the case of arrivals and 122 percent for departures.

The rapid development of the country’s infrastructure is expected to benefit the economy. Economists project that between 2013 and 2020 Poland’s GDP will grow by an extra zl.20 billion thanks to the road projects carried out. Poland will also benefit from increased tourist traffic. It is estimated that after the tournament the number of tourists will rise by around 500,000 a year, with zl.4.2 billion in extra revenue for the government. But the biggest benefit of Euro 2012 is that Poland is now more popular abroad and has raised its profile both in Europe and further afield.

Agnieszka Dokowicz

UEFA financial rewards:
23 million euros—Spain (European champion)
19.5 million euros—Italy (2nd place)
16 million euros—Germany (semifinalist)
15 million euros—Portugal (semifinalist)
12.5 million euros—England
12 million euros—Czech Republic
11.5 million euros—Greece, France
10.5 million euros—Russia, Croatia
10 million euros—Denmark, Ukraine
9 million euros—Poland, Sweden
8 million euros—the Netherlands, Ireland
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