For some in the European film industry, the FIFA Winter World Cup, which takes place in Qatar from November 21 to December 18, is like a meteor crashing down on them.
Some have revised their winter plans to avoid a collision with the biggest footballing event on the planet. The International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), for example, has changed its dates due to the World Cup, so it takes place from November 9 to 20, about 10 days earlier than normal.
“Indeed, we have moved the dates because of the World Cup. We are a public and industry festival. We surveyed our audience and a large majority said they would prefer the IDFA not to collide with the World Cup,” said Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen, Head of IDFA Industry.
Benelux distributor Just Entertainment has brought forward the release of its new comedy Van like and son to avoid group matches involving Belgium. “We basically looked at all of Belgium’s playing dates – when they play and whether it’s an important game or not,” says acquisitions manager Erik Engelen. The film will now be released in early December.
There is a good reason to do so. There is strong evidence that box office receipts can drop sharply when a country’s national team plays in the final.
When England’s women won the Euro 22 final against Germany on July 31 (a game watched by over 11 million UK viewers), cinema attendance that day was £3.6 million. sterling. That’s considerably down from the equivalent pre-pandemic day in 2019, when the box office was £7.2million.
When the men of England lost their Euro final to Italy on July 11, 2021 (a match watched by over 30 million people in the UK), the cinema box office dropped to 1, £7m, down from £4.4m on the same day in 2019 before the pandemic. .
Nonetheless, talk to UK distributors, exhibitors and industry analysts and most express minimal concern that their release plans will be disrupted by Harry Kane or Gareth Bale.
“Any theatrical release that is moved from match days is caught up on other days, and the full lineup of major titles is shown in the remaining 11 months of the year outside of tournament time,” observes Lucy Jones, Executive Director UK & Ireland, Italy, Middle East, Africa at Comscore.
The 2018 World Cup quarter-final between England and Sweden, which took place on a Saturday afternoon, is a good example of this. The short-term effect on cinema was devastating. “It took out the box office during the day because no one was taking the kids or going to do anything during the day…and then everyone went out to celebrate in the evening,” the analyst said. Gower Street, Robert Mitchell, on one of the UK’s worst-grossing Saturdays. film history. However, the losses on that day were quickly made up for and 2018 was yet another very robust year for British cinema as a whole.
The UK release schedule during this year’s World Cup period is significantly less hectic than it was last November and December when there was a bottleneck of new unreleased titles due to the pandemic.
The lack of new titles, however, may have less to do with distributors’ fear of football than shunning Disney’s two behemoths: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hits theaters on November 11, ten days before the start of the tournament, and James Cameron Avatar: The Way of the Water arrives on December 16, two days before the final.
Sunday ticket sales for Cameron’s long-delayed sequel will be weaker than if the film had surfaced in a year without the World Cup. According to FIFA, the 2018 final was seen by 1.12 billion viewers worldwide and the 2022 final is expected to see similar numbers. Nevertheless, football should not do too much damage in Avatars overall income.
Sony comes out Mathilde the musical on November 25 in the UK, targeting younger audiences, while Universal has its Harvey Weinstein abuse drama She says and its Christmas action comedy Violent night. However, very few other major studio films are currently on the schedule during the World Cup period.
This opened up opportunities for independent and alternative fare. For example, fans of theatre, opera, music and dance will have plenty of “event” cinemas to choose from during the World Cup period, including screenings of Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! the Mark Gatiss version of A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story and a live broadcast of Nutcracker of the Royal Opera.
Veteran producer Stephen Woolley, who helms Number 9 Films with Elizabeth Karlsen, is confident World Cup fever won’t damage the box office performance of Oliver Hermanus’ new feature Living, which Lionsgate will release on November 11, days before the start of the World Cup.
“We’re aiming for a fairly discerning audience, some of whom will of course want to watch some of the football on TV,” Woolley observes of the film, which is based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 classic. Ikiru. “[But] a lot of movies that come out for older audiences are as strong midweek as they are at weekends…really we only worry about England games [in the World Cup].”
It also helps that many matches in Qatar take place during the day – and this should allow bettors to enjoy the football and then go to the cinema in the evening. One circulating theory is that there is less outdoor drinking in the winter months and therefore would-be moviegoers are more likely to stay sober enough to enjoy a movie at night, even if Wales and England win games.
Either way, it’s clear that exhibitors and distributors are ready for what football might throw at them.
Since the last World Cup, they’ve handled everything from the pandemic (which closed cinemas) to transport strikes, the vagaries of the weather, the lure of other sporting events like the Olympics, the threat impending streaming giants and the distraction of hit TV shows such as Pastry shop and the island of love. The FIFA World Cup is just the latest in a never-ending series of challenges.
“I think all exhibitors are now used to it enough to work around these problems,” says Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association, on an optimistic note. “They deal with the hand given to them.”