Football isn’t coming home. Not this time anyway. But inspired by England’s run to within touching distance of the 2018 Final, Tim Crow looks back at 1966 and the differences – and surprising similarities – between the World Cup Final media, marketing and sponsorship landscape then and now.
1. There were only two broadcasters and three TV channels in the UK in 1966: BBC1, BBC 2 and ITV. Then, as now, both BBC and ITV broadcast the World Cup Final live. Their combined audience totalled 32.3 million, still the biggest in UK television history, and the BBC, with over 28 million viewers, was overwhelmingly the ratings winner. By comparison, England’s semi-final against Croatia last week drew an audience of 30.9 million, a figure that was made up of 26.6 million watching on the ITV linear channel and 4.3 million watching on its online service ITV Hub.
2. In 1966 football in England was something that women could literally only watch, not play: the FA was still five years away from reversing its 1921 decision to ban women’s football. And although ITV may have lost the ratings battle, their coverage of the Final was a big hit with women, who accounted for 75% of the ITV audience – the channel had established itself as the housewife’s favourite thanks to the popularity of the soap opera Coronation Street.
3. England’s red shirts in the 1966 Final (pictured) have become the most iconic in English football history. But that vivid red (along with the equally vivid orange of the match ball, of which more later) was lost to the watching millions: both BBC and ITV broadcast the match in black and white, as colour television wasn’t introduced in the UK until 1967. Fans could have watched in colour however. It was technically possible, as BBC and ITV told the government a couple of years earlier, but the TV manufacturers resisted, arguing that they couldn’t produce and market enough colour TV sets in time.
4. The BBC and ITV had the 1966 World Cup rights owing to the European Broadcasting Union’s $800,000 deal with FIFA. This is tiny compared to FIFA’s $3 billion income from broadcasters globally for the 2018 World Cup but was a huge increase on previous deals: the EBU paid $75,000 for the rights to the 1962 World Cup, $5,000 for the 1958 edition, and nothing for 1954, the first time the tournament was televised.
5. This weekend, you would have been able to watch the World Cup Final live just about anywhere in the world. But it wasn’t like that back in 1966. Broadcasters in fewer than 50 countries bought the rights to the tournament, resulting in a global audience in the low hundreds of millions.
6. Fan behaviour was very different too. Take a look at photographs of fans at the Final in 1966. No England shirts, no St George Cross flags. Suits and ties were very much the order of the day along with Union Jack flags.
7. 1966 was the last unbranded World Cup Final. The first global World Cup sponsorships would not be introduced until Argentina 1978, and there were no advertising signs around the pitch at Wembley – this type of branding made its World Cup debut four years later in Mexico.
8. This is not to say that the 1966 Final was an ad-free zone. Then as now, ITV ran TV ad breaks. Bovril, Carlsberg, Johnnie Walker and The Army were among the seven advertisers in the matchday programme. And high in the stands at Wembley there was one, and one only, ad sign – a giant orange hoarding for the BBC’s Radio Times magazine
9. The situation on the pitch was more familiar. Branded kits were still two tournaments and eight years away, and the first adidas World Cup match ballmade its debut in Mexico four years later. The 1966 Final’s iconic orange ball was made by Slazenger, which was one of over 100 companies to pitch for the business. But adidas was still the dominant brand on the pitch. Twenty of the 22 players (substitutes were not allowed) wore adidas-branded boots: all eleven West German players owing to the team’s deep relationship with adidas, and nine of the England team (the exceptions being Gordon Banks and Ray Wilson, who wore Puma, adidas’s feudal rival), who were each paid £1,000 – a fortune compared to their £60 match fee. But – with adidas’s knowledge – many of the England players still wore their favourite, non-adidas boots, earning their fee by painting on to them the three adidas stripes. Following the Final, adidas celebrated their domination with an ad featuring every player – but with the Puma logo blacked out on Banks’ and Wilson’s boots
10. And finally. The introduction of VAR has been one of the talking points of the 2018 World Cup: back in 1966 the big innovation was AR – the action replay. After it was first used, for England’s first match of the tournament, viewers were so disoriented that they rang the BBC en masse to complain that their signal was being distorted. But the introduction of the technology still wasn’t able to clear up that disputed Geoff Hurst goal in the Final…
Plus ça change…