By GRAHAM DUNBAR
AP Sports Writer
WARSAW, Poland (AP) - The European Championship begins Friday boasting the numbers to back its reputation as one of world sports' elite events.
UEFA will earn commercial revenues of at least $1.6 billion for the 16-team tournament in Poland and Ukraine, rivaling FIFA's 32-nation World Cup for average match value.
With each match slot expected to draw an average television audience of 150 million fans worldwide, Euro 2012 will bring a near-daily diet of ratings bigger than the Super Bowl.
A 237 million audience for the Euro 2008 final was worthy of a Summer Olympics opening ceremony.
"You can see it is mega," said David Taylor, chief executive of UEFA Events, which has contracts with 203 broadcasters. "Certainly, when we are talking to sponsors and others, they are interested in the wider global impact."
Such global popularity allows UEFA to be a generous host and budget to earn a nine-figure profit. Teams get a bigger participation fee than at the World Cup and clubs get a bigger share than FIFA gives from World Cup revenues.
It also helps explain why six of FIFA's major sponsors team with UEFA for the quadrennial Euros.
"We would never claim to be bigger than the World Cup," Taylor told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "But you can see in certain territories, if your own national team is doing well you get some very good numbers."
When champion Spain and semifinalist Russia starred four years ago, the national ratings set records.
UEFA's financial figures for Euro 2012 also stack up well despite a global downturn and doubts lingering over the co-hosts.
The 31-match tournament is set to reap $51.6 million a game, compared with FIFA's average earnings of $56.7 million from the 2010 World Cup. In South Africa, FIFA banked $3.6 billion in commercial revenue tied to its 64-match prize asset.
"It's very robust and a good performance commercially to come up with these numbers," Taylor said. "Particularly given the environment in which we were working and the countries concerned. At the outset we were unsure how our sponsors would react to go to eastern Europe, and going to these countries in particular, but the reaction has been positive."
UEFA gambled going behind the old Iron Curtain, even as its Champions League becomes a popular and commercial juggernaut which could ultimately undermine national team soccer.
A fashionable view values the Champions League above the World Cup, and its commercial revenues will top $1.6 billion for each of the next three seasons.
Fans' appetite for week-in, week-out drama has also made England's Premier League a cash cow with 20 clubs sharing almost $1.54 billion in prize money last season.
Still, UEFA will profit from Euro 2012, though short of the $394 million banked last time in risk-free Austria and Switzerland.
"The actual net left for UEFA will be less than Euro 2008, but the actual operational performance in terms of revenue will be at or about the same level," Taylor said.
UEFA spent more than expected helping Poland and Ukraine authorities manage the Euro 2012 project. A $49,750 payment per match was also added for teams who must fly between the neighbors to games.
UEFA also chose to spread $124 million among clubs worldwide as daily-rate compensation for releasing their players to take part. FIFA will pay just $70 million to bring twice as many players to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
UEFA will pay a further $244 million in participation and prize money to the 16 national associations. A team can earn a maximum $23 million for lifting the trophy having won all three group games. Spain got $30 million from FIFA for its 2010 World Cup title.
And UEFA gives FIFA its taste of Euro 2012 revenues - a 1 percent levy on total sales of the 1.4 million tickets available. That's estimated to be worth $1.43 million for soccer's world governing body, UEFA said Tuesday.
Yet for all the outlay, there's more money looming in UEFA's near future. Euro 2016 in France will have 24 teams and 51 matches. At today's rate, that's a $2.6 billion tournament.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)