The monthlong Euro 2016 soccer tournament, to be held in stadiums across France starting June 10, should mark a leap forward in terms of high-definition broadcasting and multi-platform play. But France’s other national sport — labor strikes — is a potential headache for organizers, fans, and broadcasters, recently disrupting airport and train schedules and the Paris metro. Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande has warned of the threat of terrorism, and the Seine has risen to dangerous levels, causing deaths, evacuations, and widespread closures.
Still, soccer mania is unabated, and European TV crews and commentators are descending upon France. Here are some of their coverage plans.
France’s leading commercial network, TF1, will broadcast 22 games, five of them in ultra HD for the first time. TF1 had to reach a deal with BeIN Media Group, the Qatari-owned pay-TV platform that holds live rights in France, and will carry all 51 matches. M6, France’s other commercial network, will air 11 games.
“We hope the tournament will take place in the best possible conditions,” says TF1’s Francois Pellissier. “The Euro is the world’s third-most-watched competition, after the World Cup and the Olympics.”
France is still in a state of emergency following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks; among venues targeted that day was the Stade de France, where a soccer match was underway. Media reports say Euro 2016 had been the target of a plot being hatched by the cell behind both the Nov. 13 attacks and the assaults on March 22 in Brussels.
To prepare for Euro 2016, police and security services held a simulated terror attack May 30 at the Stade de France. The script involved two suicide bombers.
TV rights in Italy are split between Rupert Murdoch’s pay-TV Sky, which is broadcasting all 51 matches, and pubcaster Rai, which has rights to 27. This is Sky’s first time broadcasting the tournament in Italy, a costly investment it chose to make now because “it’s a different format, with more teams, more TV slots, more weekends,” says Jacques Raynaud, executive VP of Sky Sport and Sky Media in Italy. He says Sky will broadcast in Super HD, an internally developed technology.
Sky’s studio for the tournament will be located in the “Sky Bateau,” a boat on the Seine, with the Eiffel Tower as backdrop. The flooding due to the river’s rise is giving the team “a bit of stress,” Raynaud admits. Security, too, is a concern, but “the general attitude is, and has always been, ‘the show must go on.’” He adds, “That said, nobody is naive. It’s something we all have to be very focused on.”
Four years ago, the Euro tournament provided Mediaset España with the most-watched show in Spanish TV history: a 12-minute semifinal penalty shoot-out between Spain and Portugal, viewed by 18.1 million people for an 83.3% share.
Like other broadcasters this year, Mediaset will multi-platform. The 23 games it bought will air live on Mediaset España and on the mitele.es website and Mediaset Sport apps. Mediaset is also promoting a new channel for young males, Be Mad, which will air day-after game highlights.
Spanish fans should have little trouble with road transportation to first-round games, all played in southern France. “We’re not expecting anything out of the ordinary,” says Manuel Villanueva,
Mediaset España’s content CEO. Still, the flagship channel, Telecinco, is prepared to deal with any “unexpected broadcast cancellation.”
In the U.K., ITV and BBC have split rights to the tournament and will show 26 matches each. They’ll both show the final.
ITV will team for the first time with digital-media platform Copa90 to provide a fans’ view. “This allows us to turn the camera in the fans’ direction and hear from them,” ITV’s Ed Ross says. “Copa90 see themselves as the beating heart of the fan network, and we wanted to tap into that. We wanted to do more than just broadcast the tournament — we wanted to show the action and the reaction as well.”
British fans will likely face delays traveling to the tournament. Dozens of flights have been cancelled as air-traffic controllers have joined the strike in France. Ferries too have been hit by the industrial action. However, the Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel from London to Paris is so far unaffected.
John Hopewell and Leo Barraclough contributed to this report.