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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

TV vendors, tourism and fast-food outlets to get World Cup boost but economies may suffer

Fan passion runs high well beyond the game's traditional power centres of Europe and Latin America, underlining the potential benefits as well as pitfalls for companies

Saudi Arabian football fans on the eve of the opener of the 2018 World Cup in downtown Moscow, Russia. The tournament poses opportunities and risks for firms around the world. Darko Bandic/AP
Saudi Arabian football fans on the eve of the opener of the 2018 World Cup in downtown Moscow, Russia. The tournament poses opportunities and risks for firms around the world. Darko Bandic/AP

Purveyors of TVs, tourism and takeaway meals are banking on a World Cup bonanza while bosses strive to avert a four-yearly wave of worker absenteeism.

As football's flagship tournament kicks off in Russia, businesses around the world are looking either to cash in or find creative ways to stop productivity plummeting.

Fan passion runs high well beyond the game's traditional power centres of Europe and Latin America, underlining the potential benefits as well as pitfalls for companies.

With a record four Arab countries having qualified, including Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah's Egypt, one survey released this week said 92 per cent of employees in the region plan to watch at least some of the tournament - including a quarter who intend to secretly follow it by live-stream while at work.

"Other strategies employees reported they would use to watch the games during working hours, include requesting a full day of annual leave, leaving work early to watch the games, or simply calling in sick," said GulfTalent, an online recruitment portal, whose survey covered 8,000 respondents across the Middle East.

Russia's time zones mean a large swathe of humanity in Europe, the Middle East and Africa will be watching games in the early or late afternoon - most likely during the workday.

Bosses are being urged by employment consultants to avoid an own goal by fostering team spirit with World Cup viewing parties, or inviting clients in for tournament-themed events.

In Germany, whose team is among the perennial tournament favourites, steelmaker ThyssenKrupp will organise a viewing event at its Essen site and others are planned at different plants, but "production can't stand still", a spokesman told the DPA news agency.

Lufthansa will run a rolling World Cup party - with non-alcoholic drinks - in its Frankfurt operations centre where flight crews rest between trips.

Despite German employers' efforts to accommodate shift patterns, the tournament will still cost Europe's biggest economy more than €2.6 billion (Dh13.02bn) in lost production, according to a study by the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart.

In contrast to Germany, England are perennial World Cup underachievers but even in Britain four years ago, productivity was dented by as much as £4bn (Dh19.74bn), employment consultancy ELAS said.

At companies where spoilsport managers prefer to red-card the footballing extravaganza, surreptitious viewing on smartphones is the most viable option for staff starved of their fix of Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar et al.

Large-screen televisions, however, still rule the viewing roost in general.

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"With every World Cup, technology takes another leap forward but it's still TV that stands out. With a huge majority of fans choosing to watch matches on the box, expect a bumper summer of TV sales," commented Ioannis Melas, technology, media and telecoms partner at EY UK and Ireland.

"Weather permitting, we should also expect to see a summer of World Cup parties," he said in a research report. "This should be a real boon to supermarkets in terms of food and drinks sales."

Bars along with pizza and burger chains around the world are running promotions for stay-at-home fans, while large numbers of those travelling to Russia hail from some surprising quarters.

Flight bookings to Russia from the United States and China are up significantly despite neither country qualifying for the tournament, according to ForwardKeys, which analyses patterns in global passenger reservations.

Overall, Russian tournament organisers expect at least 600,000 international visitors to the World Cup, while the state tourism agency forecasts 1 million.

That is despite expensive hotels and the higher cost of indirect flights to the far-flung venues, along with Russia's ongoing diplomatic tensions with the West plus its notorious red tape governing visas and tourist registrations for foreign fans.

"Compared to the previous two World Cups held in South Africa and Brazil, Russia is closer to China, which makes the overall travel cost lower," said Chen Sijing, investor relations director at Chinese online travel agency Tuniu.

Onward flights to Russia from elsewhere in the world are running 202 per cent higher at Dubai airport than this time last year, and 236 per cent at London Heathrow, ForwardKeys said.

"Regardless of whatever happens on the pitch, from a visitor perspective, Russia is already a winner," remarked the Spanish-based firm's chief executive, Olivier Jager.

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