Cinema Thoughts

The World Cup Effect

Every four years European film distributors have to deal with the world’s largest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup, which traditionally keeps potential cinema goers at home in front of the TV.

Every four years Hollywood studios and European film distributors have to deal with the world’s largest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup, which traditionally keeps potential cinema goers at home in front of the TV.

Added to this, the major studios are frustrated that their expensive blockbusters aimed at young males take a hit from a sporting event which keeps this very demographic glued to televisions for a whole month.

You may have noticed that Iron Man 2 opened in the UK before the US and part of the reason was because Marvel and Paramount wanted to maximise the grosses in territories before the football begins on June 11th.

The Film Distributors’ Association – the umbrella group that represents the companies releasing films at UK cinemas – recently released a trailer that showcased a lot of the films that will be screening this summer and their chief executive Mark Batey said:

“A lot more people love the movies than love football”

Clearly he was trying to be bullish about films at the cinema as an alternative to football on the TV.

But how much of an effect has the World Cup had in previous years?

According to data from the UK Film Council, 2002 was a bumper year for cinema admissions – the biggest of the decade in fact – but the very early kick off times (often at breakfast and lunchtime) in the 2002 tournament meant that box office wasn’t affected as much.

But in 2006 when the tournament was hosted in Germany, kick off times in the afternoon and evening meant that UK box office admissions dipped 5% during the tournament.

This summer the tournament is in South Africa and a similar time zone to Europe, which means that it is highly likely that releases during the festival of football will be affected.

So far Iron Man 2 and Robin Hood are the major studio releases to open early and get a good few weeks box office around the globe before the tournament begins.

But what of the period just before and during the World Cup?

Traditionally, distributors try to counter the males staying in to watch the football by releasing films that skew towards the female audience who want to avoid it.

In this respect Sex and the City 2 (May 28th) is hoping to cash in on this audience, although they are hoping to make their real cash before the tournament starts on June 11th.

The international poster explicitly makes light of the fact that there are ‘other ways to score’.

Letters to Juliet (June 9th) is another film targeting the female audience and there will be hopes that another film involving Amanda Seyfreid and letters (Dear John only came out last month) will be a hit.

The counter-programming also works for quirkier films not expected to be smash hits like Greenberg (June 11th), MacGruber (June 18th) and Get Him To The Greek (June 25th).

As July begins and the games are less frequent, the bigger films start to emerge again with Shrek Forever After (July 2nd) and Twilight Saga: Eclipse (July 9th).

Twilight and Shrek fans will no doubt assure these films a big opening but if England do get to the final – a big if, admittedly – the studios can expect the media coverage and opening grosses to be affected by football fever.

After the tournament ends on July 11th, it is noticeable that the big films return with a vengeance: Inception (July 16th), Toy Story 3 (July 21st), The A-Team (July 28th), Knight & Day (August 6th) and Salt (August 20th).

It is also noticeable that two releases which would could conceivably be released in the summer have been shifted to September, with Jonah Hex (September 24th) and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (September 24th).

The Wall Street sequel was actually scheduled for an April release but perhaps Fox felt that it had a better shot at earning more money outside the spring/summer season.

Plus, financial crashes often occur in the Autumn so maybe they are also hoping for some free publicity.

But we will have to wait to see if football will cause the UK box office to have its own mini-depression this summer.