On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Bet you Euro 2004 is the hot topic

A few had stayed up to watch the games daily while the
others said they tried to watch the game but fell asleep even before the

Like schoolboys, a few wagers were placed as the debate
over the merits of the teams became more heated. A few of us were asked to be
witnesses and it was followed by plenty of good laughs over football jokes.

The poor Tan Sri who owned a golf course had little to
contribute because he confessed that he could never get excited watching football.
He was keen to talk about the US Open but few wanted to listen.

I have managed to watch only two games so far – the France
versus England
game on June 13 and yesterday's game where the French took on the Greeks.

As an ardent supporter of the Arsenal football team,
there were plenty of good reasons to watch the defending champion fight to keep
the cup. Watching Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera and Robert Pires – the stars of
Arsenal in the French team – has always been a delight.

A survey by Nielsen Media Research Telescope indicated
that the France
versus England
game on June 13 (telecast live on TV3 at 2.30am
on June 14) attracted an estimated 547,000 viewers although the next day was a
Monday. That game, however, did not draw the most Malaysian viewers. The
biggest surprise – like some of the results so far – is that 857,000 Malaysians
watched the Czechs beat the Latvians 2-1.

The Nielsen Media Research Telescope tracked the
television viewing habits of 2,590 individuals above the age of six in 670 randomly
selected households in Peninsular Malaysia. The research agency has named Euro
2004 as a winner for television stations broadcasting the matches. Those of us
who had been following the English Premier League weekly through Astro have
felt let down by the cable television network.

Like many Malaysians, I still find it hard to accept
three commentators sitting in a studio and talking about the games without
visuals. Astro has no doubt lost out in Euro 2004.

TV3, which has the broadcasting rights on Euro 2004, has
become the darling station of Malaysians. It consistently garnered more than
half the number of TV viewers whenever a game was showed live, according to the
survey. For example, the TV station captured 68% of the viewers for the opening
game between Portugal and Greece on June 13 but many of us who wanted to watch
the repeats had to do so on 8TV – the sister station of TV3.

It may be a corporate strategy to get us to tune to 8TV
but many Malaysians do not like the idea of having to install an antennae on
their roof. However, the survey reported that 8TV secured its highest number of
viewers (500,000) during the game between Greece
and Spain on
June 17, followed by Switzerland
and Croatia
(366,000) on June 14. The two games also gave 8TV its largest percentage of
viewers at 30%.

Football has become more than just a game for men. It has
become a passion, and the game has attracted women, too. It is no longer just a
sport; spin-offs include fashion and design.

Celebrity footballers now spread messages of goodwill,
peace and the fight against diseases. For example, if a politician talks about
peace at a stadium, only his supporters would show up. But if England
captain David Beckham were to speak on the same subject, you can be sure that
the stadium would be full. That's the power of football.

Euro 2004 has, to some extent, generated much goodwill in
the office as colleagues break the barrier of rank and seniority to talk about
the game and trade friendly insults on the teams they support.

Besides the media, mamak stalls and the pubs making money
from Euro 2004, Malaysian bookies are also raking in plenty of money from
pundits – some say to the tune of billions of ringgit. The authorities must
face the reality of betting on sporting events, especially football. At least,
allow existing gaming outlets to take bets. More important, the Government will
get good tax revenue from gaming.

As it is now, illegal bookies are making tons of money
that will probably be channelled to other illegal activities. Despite the
police announcing big plans to rope in the bookies before the start of Euro
2004, only a few have been nabbed so far.

Now that Les Bleus are out of the running, which team is
your favourite to win Euro 2004? Anyone care to bet?