England will win the European Football Championships. And the final will be watched by an audience of around 500 million people, writes Huw Richards. The odds are that the second of those statements represents the greater fantasy.
Sports fans - or anyone watching some international spectacular like the Eurovision Song Contest or the Oscars - are well used to hearing astronomical figures quoted for international television audiences. But how far do those figures bear examination? The total being bandied for last summer's Rugby Union World Cup final in South Africa was two billion - a trifle unlikely in that it represents around 40 per cent of the world's population and rugby is a major sport in only a handful of countries.
The broadcasters of Euro 96 are predicting a cumulative audience of seven billion - an average of around 200 million for the earlier matches, with 500 million for the final. It is cited as the third-largest televised sporting event in the world, after the World Cup and the Olympics. The total population of the 16 competing nations is only 575 million, a quarter of them Russians. Matches will be beamed to 194 countries, but does that 500 million figure have any reality? No, says independent researcher and analyst William Phillips: "All such figures are pure propaganda, and mean nothing. What they do is calculate the number of people who might theoretically watch the transmissions and assume that they all will - or if they are a little more sophisticated, take a percentage of that potential audience."