Budget-conscious Swedes ‘sold’ part of the home court advantage

It has become increasingly common in recent decades that two countries join together and organize a World/European Championship.  But it is surely more unusual that the one and only organizer, in this case Sweden, more or less gives away home court advantage to one of the main rivals, Denmark.  This is what Sweden did, quite knowingly and for strictly financial/budgetary reasons, realizing that this might come back and haunt them on the court.

Malmö is located just some 20 minutes away from Copenhagen, just across the bridge.  But Sweden still had Denmark play both the preliminary round and the main round in Malmö, in front of crowds totally nominated by Danes.  And this even though Sweden knew that they would play in this group in the main round, after having started out with strong crowd support in Göteborg.  The fanatic Danes had even bought up most of the tickets for the main round in advance!

So it was really lucky for Sweden that the final match in the main round against Denmark was not a matter of managing vs failing to advance to the semi-finals;  instead it was ‘just’ a matter of avoiding France as an opponent in the semis.  Denmark won the game.  And then, can you imagine, the Danish fans had become so spoiled that they were genuinely upset and protested loudly when they realized that Sweden was finally using its privileges as organizer and the right to play the semi-final against France in the 12000-seat Malmö arena, while Denmark was ‘relegated’ to the 4000-seat arena in Kristianstad, 90 minutes further away from Copenhagen.

A frantic ticket swap effort ensued, both on the internet and outside the Malmö arena.  Danish supporters with tickets to Malmö now scrambled to find scarce tickets for their game, while peddling tickets to the Sweden semi-final in tough competition with the scalpers.  In the end, both teams really got overwhelming crowd support, but only Denmark managed to take advantage, beating Spain.

More generally, the Swedish way of organizing the event was indeed characterized by budget considerations and cost effectiveness.  Typically, the IHF and the organizer insist at the outset that “this will be the best Championship ever”.  And then the hope is that the IHF President will indeed use the key phrase ‘best ever’ in his post-event press conference.  But this time he pointedly chose a more modest label.

Certainly, the organization was not weak and error-prone.  The Swedes are experienced organizers of handball events, and they have the necessary infrastructure.  They know what it takes to put on events that are technically solid and offer all the services needed.  But the problem is that participants, especially the teams and the media, are used to being pampered in an unlimited manner, just for the sake of image and positive feedback.  Such extravagance is not the Swedish approach.

Instead the Swedes could point to having exceeded their budget estimates in all areas, including ticket sales.  And IHF could boast with a TV coverage to more countries and to larger aggregate audiences than ever before.  Of course, the number of tickets sold was not as huge as in Germany 2007 with consistently larger arenas. But the focus is more and and more on television coverage and an adaptation to ‘new media’.  The web cast coverage was a matter of special pride to the TV rights holder, UFA sports.