Country Branding and Crisis in Mega Events. Image Impact for Poland of Clashes Between Polish and Russian Fans. Football Euro 2012.

Mega Events and City and Country Branding

UEFA Euro 2012 is the top football championship in Europe at national teams level. It receives huge media coverage all over Europe and it creates media interests in countries outside Europe with football (soccer) tradition.

UEFA Euro tournament can be considered a regional mega event. As such, countries hosting the championship become the media reference in Europe for three weeks.

There is an increasing debate and skepticism about the actual economic returns and profits that countries capture by organizing and hosting. Some experts in the field of economics of sports find at best an unclear positive impact of mega events, not greater than investing public money in other services and social needs.

I tend to share the view that mega events are not the best public investment in terms of direct returns.

But there is an effect linked to hosting mega events that it has often been neglected in the scientific literature and only recently receives more attention by academics and practitioners: the role and impact of mega events in branding or rebranding cities and countries.

And I consider that mega events and special events can play an extraordinary role in strengthening city and country brands. In some cases, this may be in fact the main benefit in hosting events. The positive impact of a well managed event and a good storytelling around the place brand may really create lasting effects that create a new era for the city or the country as a brand.

Think South Africa. Think probably Beijing. Think Barcelona.

Hosting mega events is thus a marvellous branding tool for cities or countries needing to improve their international reputation and awareness, and this either for tourism, foreign investment or for geopolitical reasons.

So, hosting Euro 2012 is a big shot for branding the country values and attractiveness of Poland and Ukraine in Europe and abroad.

But taking branding benefits in hosting a mega event requires doing a good job, and working hard for avoiding problems as much as you can.

Things may also turn wrong during the mega events. Then, normal day problems may become nightmares in terms of branding, exactly for the same reasons that mega events create brands: massive and global media coverage, invasion of free journalists from all over the world who can capture the incidents, magnification of incidents.

Every problem become a matter of crisis and reputation management and require and excellent procedure design and counting with all required ressources to manage the problems timely.

Even if correctly managed, problems arising during a mega events may become part of the long term storyline of the event, eventually tarnishing the brand image of the city or country organizers.

The list of incidents associated to mega events that remain in the memories of people associated to the city or the country is long. In fact, many times the crisis are associated to the hosting city:

  • Tlatelolco massacre in Plaza de las Tres Culturas, just before the start of 1968 Olympics in Mexico.
  • Munich massacre during 1972 Olympics. Nine kidnapped Israeli athletes were killed during an anti-terrorist plan.
  • Atlanta 1996 Olympics. Centennial Olympic Park bombing.
  • Attack to Togo national team during 2010 football Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.

What about the Euro 2012 in Poland and in Ukraine? Controversies before the event starts

Both countries face a number of problems and criticisms. Ukraine has received sustained international pressure and critizism due to low politics and democratic standards. China experienced a similar (but much stronger) negative media treatment due to human rights problems in China. But our media impact analysis showed that this kind of controversies emerge and develops the weeks before the event takes place. Once the sport competition starts, the flow of news related with the sport is so massive, that almost all controversies tend to vanish. This happened clearly with 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Our guess is that all pre event controversies will tend to lose strength.

Finally, branding returns will be heavily determined only by what happens during the event, between 8 June and 1st July 2012.

Poland Vs Russia, 12 June 2012. A match, and clashes between fans

Many things went smoothly and well run: ‘no news, good news’, the sport emotions are telling the story.

But then, we had an embarrassing constellation of events, last 12 June 2012.

Poland had to play against Russia, as both were in Group A. This is Game 2 at group stage. Russia won its first game against  Czech Republic. Poland was able to just get a disappointing draw against Greece.

Of course, Poland has some historic rivalries with Russia.

The amazing coincidence is that 12 June is also the Russia Day. It refers to the Day of adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Federation in 1990, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The embarrassing component of the story is that fans in Russia organized a march in Warsaw to celebrate Russia Day.

This combination of elements eventually confluenced in clashes between fans of Poland and Russia. We provide below the explanation of the facts by Wikipedia.

A clash involving football fans took place in Warsaw on 12 June 2012. The violence broke out when, during a march organised by Russian fans celebrating Russia Day before the Poland vs. Russia game at Warsaw’s National Stadium, rival groups of supporters began to provoke each other with insulting chants. The Polish Police fired warning shots and used water cannons to disperse rival groups of fans; around 100 arrests were made and ten people hospitalised – seven Poles, two Russians and one German. (UEFA Euro 2012, Wikipedia).

The purpose of this post is to evaluate how damaging these clashes are for Poland country reputation in the short term. We can provide some empirical answers to this relevant question.

The natural answer is that the extent of the damages is to be measured by the extent of the media coverage given to the clashes and violence, and the profile given to these news by international media.

We present first some photos of the clashes as captured by the journalists in situ and used as photos in news articles all over the world.

The images of the clashes between Polish and Russian fans and hooligans.

We show you here a selection of the photos published in different newspapers to explain what happened before the Poland Vs Russia game. By the way, the final result if the match was 1-1.

First two photos reflect images of ongoing violence, by hooligans-like men. The connection with the event is strong, as the view of the stadium appears in the photos.

The following three captions are specially damaging for brand UEFA, as they show the brand and logo UEFA, and make evident some of the unsolved problems linked to football.

Source: L’Express, France

The consequences of rioting is a police over presence, that again is damaging for Poland country brand.

Source: The Telegraph, Britain

Source: The Guardian, Britain.

The examples shown are just a selection of images used by media worldwide. How to assess the overall impact of this reputation crisis? We show the toools we use to address this issue and the results that we obtain in the next section of this post.

Measuring the global media impact of the clashes in Warsaw

The empirical strategy that we will apply in this case is image content analysis of photos used in newspapers talking about any subject related with Poland.

We are already using image content analysis to show the stars of different matches in this current Euro 2012, in previous posts in this blog.

We used image content analysis also in a previous case in this blog, about rioting and its effects in city brand. This was the violent incidents in Barcelona during a general national strike in Spain (see the analysis here).

We showed that according to our image analysis of photo news, images of destruction had a massive impact:

The images of violence had a devastating negative effect in the short term international image of city of Barcelona, as they flooded international newspapers. Rioting images represented the main image association to Barcelona, with a weighted share of 48.2%. Compared to the strike, the images about FC Barcelona sport performance took only 6.8% of image spots. Sagrada Familia and other Gaudí buildings and monuments reached a share of 11%.

This is the visual reflect of the images of Barcelona during that week:

We will apply the same technique to evaluate the impact of the clashes in Warsaw.

We have monitored images shown in press articles mentioning Poland, in several countries in Europe and abroad in 12 and 13 June 2012. Applying image content analysis, we have identified how many news were indeed related with Poland issues. Among them, we have counted how many of them did refer to Euro 2012. We have finally counted the news showing explicit images of clashes between hoolingans or massive presence of police.

In the figure below you can find the results concerning the measurement of the impact of images of violence before Poland Vs Russia in the news in countries in Europe.

We find that images of clashes have received a massive media coverage in the two directly affected countries, Poland and Russia, as we count more than 50.000 impacts. Co-hosting country Ukraine showed the incident in more than 10.000 photos. This result reflects that the incidents are considered relevant by media and public opinion both in Russia and in Poland.

Looking at media reaction in other countries in Europe, we find that the country that has provided by far more media attention is neighbour country Germany, also with more than 50,000 images. Media in France and Italy gave to the incidents less media attention, with more than 10,000 images each. Even lower consideration has been given by media in the other two big countries in Europe, also involved in Euro 2012: in Britain and Spain number of news is between 5,000 and 10,000.

We measure thus a huge media impact of the clashes in media all over Europe. The incidents, that maybe are not really serious in terms of injured people or rioting, cause a short time but large and deep negative image about Poland as tourism destination. Perceived security is one of the key factors that tourists consider before choosing the vacation destination.

We present in the following figure the impact of the clashes in media in some countries outside Europe.

In comparison with massive media impact reached in countries in Europe, the impact created outside Europe is rather mild.

We have monitored media from countries with strong football tradition. According to our results, there are more than 1.000 images about the clashes in media in Mexico. The move in the range 500 to 1.000 in Argentina and Brazil.

In other countries that don’t count with national football teams with consolidated sport performance at international level, we find that images of clashes appeared in the range 500-1000 in Canada, Australia and Indonesia. Images of the clashes are almost negligible in media in India.

Did the ball divert the attention from the clashes?

We have evidence that the images about clashes and violence between Russian and Polish fans have had a massive media impact in several countries in Europe.

How deep and lasting these images creating a very negative branding effect may be?

Long term impact is measured in the long term. There will be long term impact if people and media tend to associate to some extent Warsaw and Poland with street rioting; or future incidents by hooligans elsewehe create the recall of June 2012 clashes in Poland. There will be also lasting effects of this episode if future news related with relationship between Poland and Russia refer to June 2012 incident.

Long term impact of incidents of violence are awful for city and country branding. Precisely, the name and the images of hooliganism have been long time associated to Britain, for terrible episodes of violence in the 70s and 80s. It has taken myriad of efforts by football and local authorities to erradicate massive hooliganism, and Britain has needed decennies to restore reputation in this field. In this sense, recent rioting events in London are alse extremely damaging for their branding efforts.

The worst scenario for place branding is when your city-country becomes the epytome of a tragedy, scandals or violence. We showed for instance in this blog how every tsunami alert in the Pacific is systematically associated to Aceh, even if this region of Indonesia was not the only region devastated by 2004 tsunami. This strong association is a costly negative branding for tourism industry in Indonesia (you can see our analysis of the media impact of tsunami alert April 2012 here).

A similar story can be told at personal branding level. If a scandal by a celebrity or politician reaches the status of epytome, then every time that in the future a new scandal of the same sort emerges, the scandal-branded personality will be used by the media as example. We found for instance in a previous post of this blog that every time that a new political scandal appears linked to sexual misbehaviour, media mentions to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski explode in Bill Clinton’s media reputation (see here ‘The Reputational Curse of Political Sex Scandals: The Impact of Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn Scandals on Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky Reputation’).

How to explore in the short term the chances that a current scandal or problem can produce lasting long term negative effects?

We consider that just measuring total media impact of the incident, as shown in the maps in the previous section is not enough to predict how harming the event will be in the future.

Massive media coverage is a necessary condition for creating branding impact, positive and negative. But it is not a sufficient condition.

Applying this rule, we can derive negative conclusions. We feel that the images of violence in the streets of Warsaw will not punish its city brand value in countries where the impact has been relatively low. This refers to all countries outside Europe.

As for countries in Europe, nothing can be said about long term impact with this data.

The additional information we propose to use in order to evaluate the extent of the the branding damages is to measure the impact of the negative images of violence with the positive images of sport.

We have proven that media coverage of clashes has been really massive in Russia, Poland, Ukraine and Germany. But Poland and Russia were specially interested in what happened that day in Poland, as their national team were playing a rather decisive match in that country. Also many other countries were interested in Poland that day because of football. This may imply also massive media coverage of sport related images.

Our proposal is to measure the share of bad news (images of clashes) against good news (football related images) . The higher the proportion of bad news images, the bigger the probability that the incidents will create a negative brand associations about Warsaw and Poland in people from that country. This is an exercice similar to the one followed to measure the impact of riots in Barcelona, presented above.

We count with this information for all the countries monitored and presented in the maps in the previous section. We show now our results.

We present first the results concerning media in the two directly affected countries.

We find that the share of negative images about the clashes in Polish media takes ‘only’ 12% of all images about Euro 2012 in 12 June 2012 issues. So, if media coverage to the violence was massive in Poland, much more massive is coverage about the match and other issues related with the tournament co-organized by Poland. We can assert with this information that clashes are not viewed in Poland as a dramatic and terrible event.

Moving to media coverage in Russia, we find that the other side in the story provides more relative weight to the incidents, as images of violence represent 21% of all images about the Euro 2012, almost the twice than in Polish media. It is definitively higher than reached in Poland, but the clearly higher attention given to the pure football news is telling us that media in Russia do not consider the clashes as a major insult and diplomatic new cause with Poland.

Ukraine is the third country most affected by the incidents. As country co-organizing the championship, and affected negatively by the media concerning the quality of local politics and freedom, the clashes may also harm its media reputation. We find that media coverage to the clashes was around 20% of all day news about the Euro 2012, in line with coverage given in Russia, thus higher than in Poland.

We show now the results of countries where media coverage of clases were higher.

In Germany, where media coverage was massive, we find that the weight of clashes in overall news about Euro 2012 is also stronger (25.6% of all images) than in France and Italy (around 20%). This result is bad news for Poland’s country reputation, as Germany is one key market for Poland, as it it the powerful neighbour country.

If we compare the relative importance given to the incidents in Germany and elsewhere with the media coverage provided in Poland (a share of 25.6% of all news in Germany and only 12% in Poland), this suggest that Poland tends to minimize the impact of the problem in local news, which is a common reaction.

Below, the results for other countries in Europe that showed lower quantity of images about the clashes. We obtain a variety of sensibility towards the hooligans violence. It is rather low in Spain (15.7% share), average in Britain (23.3%) and very high reaction in Portugal (32.1% of all photo news about Euro 2012). Although, total amount of photos in Portugal media were small: it reflects that the media market in Portugal is much smaller than in the other big European countries. This is why it is important to analyze not only quantity of news, but also use measures of the relative weight of these news in local media.

Finally, the results for coverage given in countries outside Europe.

We have that in countries in America, there is relative low media coverage of clashes in Mexico, moderate in Argentina and very high in Brazil. Brazil is the organizer of a future football mega event, FIFA World Cup 2014, and it is a country that suffers of some problems of security.

In countries from other continents, we observe a very strong echo to violence in media in Australia, and a very small impact in India.

4 thoughts on “Country Branding and Crisis in Mega Events. Image Impact for Poland of Clashes Between Polish and Russian Fans. Football Euro 2012.

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