Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Football Betting: High Stakes Game of World Cup

The winds of change that threatened to blow through European football are giving way to sighs of relief. The money men who feared that superstars such as Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo would be replaced by unknown names from some of Europe's less fashionable football nations at next summer's World Cup are breathing easier.

Barring an unlikely upset in tonight's qualification playoffs, France and Portugal will build on Saturday's first-leg victories and secure their passage to South Africa at the expense—quite literally—of the Republic of Ireland and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Elsewhere, Ukraine and Greece remain deadlocked, while Slovenia must overturn a deficit if they are to edge past Russia and earn a share of the riches on offer at sport's most lucrative event.

The stakes could scarcely be higher. FIFA, the sport's governing body, estimates that if the viewers of every match of the World Cup tournament are added up, the cumulative global audience would exceed 20 billion. In addition, television rights for the tournament are worth $1.26 billion in Europe alone. Even the feel-good factor from reaching the tournament could be worth more than £1 billion ($1.68 billion) to participating nations.

Before the 2006 tournament, the U.K.-based Centre for Economics and Business Research calculated the rise in consumer spending during the competition and estimated the French economy stood to benefit to the tune of £1.2 billion.

Even for those nations where the spending increase is less pronounced, Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports-business strategy and marketing at the U.K's Coventry University, predicts a sound macroeconomic boost for the countries.

"There will be a ripple-out effect from the tournament into areas that are directly related, such as sports betting; Football betting and magazine publishing, but even further to electronics retailers and manufacturers, for example, because people tend to buy more televisions around these tournaments, too," he says.

While such figures are invariably abstract, the rewards for those directly involved are more tangible. For the players celebrating victory tonight, reaching the finals can enhance both on- and off-field earnings. "The players stand to gain both in terms of revenue, because they get paid for playing there, but also in terms of profile," says Henry Chappell, chief executive of London-based sports-public-relations specialists Pitch, whose clients include English Premier League club Chelsea. "There are many examples of players where the World Cup has taken them to a new level in terms of the deals they can broker with commercial partners."
Even for players who don't light up the tournament, the exposure can have a positive impact on their club careers, according to Jeff Slack, senior vice-president of global business development at the London office of sports agency IMG Global.

"If you're a kid from Ghana who hasn't played in the English Premier League, but you're in the national team and have a good World Cup, that will absolutely increase your potential to move to a bigger club and have a bigger salary," he says.

National federations may also translate a World Cup appearance into bigger sponsorship or team-jersey deals, while qualification is worth about £4.5 million in prize money per team.
Yet for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia and Ireland, those riches may remain tantalizingly out of reach.

FIFA's decision to seed the playoffs just a month before the end of the European qualifying campaign ensured France and Portugal couldn't be drawn to face each other, limiting the chance for one of the continent's lesser lights to advance.

The established order fulfilled their part by winning Saturday's first legs, lending weight to the notion that those with the most to gain from tonight's matches are the tournament's sponsors, partners, and ultimately FIFA itself.

"FIFA needs Brazil, Argentina and arguably Portugal, because it strengthens the core product," says Mr. Chadwick. "It's good for negotiations with commercial partners, with broadcasters and with sponsors, and in the battle for market territory, it's important that the best constituent parts of your product are available to you."