Swedish organizers of the European Championships in men’s handball lost a Scandinavian advantage for ticket sales when only Norway made it into the semi-finals this weekend. They hoped Norwegian handball fans would boost demand, but then Norway lost its chance to win its first Euro gold ever.
Norway’s 28-29 loss to Croatia on Friday came after a thrilling match that went to extraordinary lengths. “We lost in double overtime, they even had a penalty in the one overtime session, and we were just one point away,” groaned player Christian O’Sullivan to state broadcaster NRK. “It doesn’t get any worse than this.”
Organizers also had some stress, at a stadium in Stockholm that could accommodate 20,000 fans for matches during the weekend. Handball is popular in Scandinavia and the Swedes had hoped both Sweden and Denmark would make it into the semi-finals and finals. When neither did, organizers had to hope that Norwegian fans would provide a market for all the tickets that cost up to NOK 2,000 (USD 250).
There were some ardent Norwegian fans there on Friday but now Norway is out of the race for gold, along with Sweden and Denmark. The grandstands were nonetheless much more active than they were at the recent women’s handball World Championships in Japan. Even though the Norwegian women have won lots of handball medals over the years, there were hardly any Japanese spectators and organizers resorted to setting up canned applause machines and bringing in school groups to cheer and boost spirits. Handball is simply much more popular in Europe, especially Scandinavia, than it is in most other parts of the world.