Downturn or not, football's appeal remains sky-high
The economic slowdown clearly isn't having much of an effect when it comes to football, if the latest numbers coming out of France - the host country for Euro 2016 - are any indication.
According to European football's governing body Uefa, the month-long tournament, now into its second week, is regularly pulling in an average of 130 million TV viewers for each of the group matches so far.
By comparison, this year's Super Bowl - the most prestigious professional football game in the United States - drew a TV audience of about 112 million when the match was played in February.
But the Super Bowl is the lesser-followed American brand of football, where the ball is oval-shaped and not round.
When we talk about the other kind of football, more commonly known as soccer in North America, the popularity of the sport is staggering, to put it mildly.
Tournament organiser Uefa has estimated that the tournament's global TV viewership will rise to 300 million by the time the top two teams meet in Paris for the final on July 11.
As Uefa's marketing director, Guy-Laurent Epstein, put it recently, the organisers will deliver "51 Super Bowls" in the space of a single month, referring to the total number of matches at Euro 2016.
With a record 24 nations taking part in France, Uefa expects to make about two billion euros ($3.04b) in revenue, up from the 1.4b euros it made four years ago when Poland and Ukraine were hosts to 16 teams.
This year's TV rights were sold to broadcasters around the world for about 1.05b euros, 25 per cent higher than in 2012.
The vast majority of a total of 2.5 million match tickets - a million more than what was available at Euro 2012 - have been snapped up by fans from all over the globe, eager to catch one or more of the 51 matches being contested in 10 cities across France.
The most expensive ticket for the final, to be played at the 80,000-seater Stade de France in the French capital, Paris, has a face value of 895 euros, with tickets already being traded on the black market for many times that amount.
It's no wonder that major events like Euro 2016 spell big bucks for football's biggest sponsors, all of them eager to cash in on the sport's universal reach and the spending prowess of a growing middle class.
The value of sponsorships is up 40 per cent from 2012, to about 450 million euros. There are the usual suspects such as adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai and Carlsberg, all aggressively tapping on football's appeal to reach out to their customer base.
Carlsberg, the Danish brewer, a long-time sponsor of the European Championship, was reported to have pumped in as much as 80m euros on the tournament.
Adidas, the German sports equipment giant, provides the kits for nine of the 24 teams at Euro 2016, including the defending champions Spain, Germany, Wales and Belgium.
Adidas expects to sell a total of 1.3 million Germany jerseys this year, which is 300,000 more than what it sold four years ago.
Nike's famous swoosh logo is emblazoned on the jerseys of six teams, including the host nation France, England and Portugal.
Puma, the smaller German brand, has five teams, including Italy and the Czech Republic. Such replica jerseys cost a pretty penny in Singapore, going for around $100 each at most retailers.
Fans are known to shell out as much as $40 to $50 more to print the name and shirt number of their favourite players on the back.
It's quite evident that football these days is much more than just the 90 minutes of action on the pitch.
The sport is both a thriving multi-billion dollar business and a lifestyle. Before, during and after the matches, the cash tills are ringing loudly despite the downturn as companies big and small compete for every dollar they can get their hands on.
- This story was first published in The Business Times Weekend on June 18.