Sweden knows how to throw a party
The Scandinavian nation proved it could put on the ritz with the best of any nation when it played host to the 2013 UEFA Women’s European Championship of football.
A record number of fans turned out to watch matches across Sweden while a record television audience followed 16 teams from across Europe battle for the women’s crown. Germany won the title for a record sixth consecutive time while Sweden finished third.
The success Sweden had in playing host to the championships had football officials literally dancing for joy. UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino called Sweden 2013 "the best ever Women's Euro” at a press conference on the eve of the final.
The numbers told the story as over 200,000 fans attended matches, including a UEFA-record 41,388 that saw Germany beat Norway 1-0 for the title. A total of 218,888 people bought tickets, while more than 261,000 fans participated in the “fan zones” — family fun areas — set up outside each arena. The fan zones were a new addition to the 2013 tournament and featured soccer clinics, merchandise and sponsor-provided entertainment. The fan zone attendees were in addition to ticket-holders for matches.
The attendance figures easily eclipsed those of the 2009 tournament, played in Finland, at which attendance reached 129,000.
Fans also turned out to watch the 2013 championships, with 1.3 million watching Sweden’s matches on television. Live attendance at the Germany-Norway final topped the previous record for a final by 19,000 people.
It is no wonder Infantino, the UEFA General Secretary, gushed when he spoke to the media about the tournament singling out tournament director Goran Havik, UEFA Executive Committee member and chairwoman of the UEFA Women's Football Committee Karen Espelund, and the president of the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) Karl-Erik Nilsson, for special praise.
"Many, many thanks to Karl-Erik, to the Swedish FA, to Göran, for all the great work which they have performed in making this EURO the best ever Women's EURO that UEFA have organized," Infantino said. "It's been a really great event and the climax is still to come."
All four participants highlighted the exceptional levels of interest that the tournament has provoked, with stadium crowds and television audiences setting new benchmarks. "We have had record-breaking attendance in stadiums," he said. "We've had a very high media interest — approximately 1,000 media representatives were accredited. We've had record TV viewership numbers, with total live audiences after the semi-finals of over 55 million,” with 10 million that watched the final.
Havik said the telling figure was the sold-out arenas for matches in which the host nation did not play.
"We must remember that 20 out of 25 games will have been played without Swedish participation,” he said. ”In the fan zones, we have had about 260,000 visitors. So, in total, we will be close to half a million people who will have watched the Women's EURO, and that's incredible.”
Havik said one reason for the massive tournout, especially for the final, was simply the ability for a fan to say, “’I was there when Sweden hosted the final in a European Championship at football.' To host the final of a European Championship — it will take some time before we can do that again. It will be a historic moment."
Actually, Sweden is no stranger to playing host to major tournament. Sweden was the host country for the 1958 World Cup, which featured the debut of a 17-year-old Brazilian named Pele. Sweden played host to the men’s 1992 UEFA European Championship. However, in both cases, the tournaments were little more than side notes to the sports world. Today, the World Cup is the largest single sports event in the world, creating more than $5 billion in income. The men’s UEFA European Championship ranks second.
For Espelund as well, Sweden 2013 will go down as the finest edition of the competition so far. "It's been the best EURO ever, and I can say because I've been involved in all of them since 1987," she said.
Given the overwhelming public response, the tournament looks set to leave a profound legacy. "We've realized now that this national team has taken a big place in the heart of the Swedish football spectators," said Nilsson. "And we've got a very good media response — a lot of articles, a lot of TV coverage, and that's fantastic. And lots of spectators, and in some ways a lot of new spectators. That gives inspiration to the clubs that it's possible to attract spectators."
Nilsson also feels Sweden has demonstrated an ability to organize big sporting events.
"We want more," he said. "One of our strategic goals is to organize international tournaments. So, UEFA, thank you for the decision to give us the possibility and for the trust you have shown us."