It never promised to be much of a game anyway – and so it proved, world champions Spain converting their superiority and obvious class into four goals as they shut out a lacklustre Belarus in their World Cup qualifier almost a fortnight ago.
What made this one-sided fixture important, from an economic perspective, however, was its absence from Spanish television.
The game’s television rights holders, Sportfive, owned by France’s Lagardere Media Group, failed to sell it to Mediaset Espana’s Telecino channel, the broadcaster traditionally responsible for screening Spain’s away fixtures, despite cutting the cost from a comparatively modest €3.88 million (£3.2 million) to an almost give away €1.5 million.
Some reports suggested that so desperate were Sportfive that the asking price eventually came down below €700,000, but still there were no takers.
It was the first time a Spanish World Cup qualifier had not been screened on national TV.
The situation arose because declining advertising revenue and Spain’s horrendous economic crisis has reduced the amount of money broadcasters are prepared to spend buying sports rights. It’s a situation unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future, although international football is not the only sport affected by Spain’s – and the rest of Europe’s – economic woes.
At the beginning of 2011, golf’s European Tour hosted seven Spanish-based events; this year, that figure has fallen to three and in 2013, it seems likely that only the Spanish Open will remain as part of the tour.
Corporate sponsors have dramatically reduced their expenditure on what are deemed ‘non- essentials’ and as a consequence, leading golfers are reluctant to turn out and broadcasters cannot afford to screen tournaments featuring little-known golf players. It is becoming a particularly vicious circle, the implications of which are potentially extremely serious for European sport, not just golf.
In the most comprehensive recent investigation into the European golf industry’s commercial and economic impact, published on the eve of the credit crunch, accountants KPMG concluded that its total economic value was a staggering €48 billion.
The value of Europe-wide golf tourism, the firm found, was €2.2 billion, while the industry employed almost 400,000 people across the continent, who earned an aggregate of €9.4 billion in wages.
Yet once tournaments start being lost by formerly well-established venues and big-name players start shunning lower value events, so the golf industry begins to suffer.
Fewer amateur golf societies want to play courses no longer in the golfing vanguard, while fewer employees are required to manage golf clubs and complexes that are beginning to shrink. Big names and the regular hosting of big tournaments keep the crowds and broadcasters coming.
A fortnight ago, I had the opportunity to play the Royal Liverpool course, home of the 2014 Open, as part of a society. It added something to the game, standing on the first where Tiger, Rory and the rest will drive off in less than two years’ time.