|As UEFA EURO 2016 reached its conclusion, over 300 million football fans tuned in to watch Cristiano Ronaldo and his supporting cast claim the Henri Delaunay Cup in St Denis. But for brands and potential sponsors, eyes should now be trained on a different footballing prize: the opportunity to sponsor UEFA EURO 2020 and the associated UEFA national team competitions.|
|Following the co-hosted tournaments of 2008 and 2012 – in Austria–Switzerland and Poland–Ukraine respectively – EURO 2016 saw a return to traditional single market hosting. 24 teams, their fans and the eyes of the football world zero-ed in on France for a Gallic festival of football. Its successor, four years hence, will have a very different flavour.Michel Platini may have been suspended, but his 2020 vision remains – a ‘EUROs for Europe’. The 16th edition of the tournament, on its 60th anniversary in 2020, will visit 13 cities in 13 different European countries. It will be the first major football tournament to span more than two countries. Truly, a European Championship.“The EURO will never have better lived up to its name. It will be a EURO of unity and|
shared experiences…and with one single language: football.”
Unsurprisingly, the idea has polarised opinion. Some have questioned Platini’s motivation – the commercial potential of an enlarged and expanded tournament? Political expediency given the paucity of credible bids to host in 2020? Or ensuring a wide European power base in his now discredited bid for the FIFA presidency? Critics have also been quick to highlight the logistical complexities, the cost for fans wanting to follow their team across the continent, and the loss of the local flavour and ‘host nation spirit’ that often defines international tournaments. Sepp Blatter, of all people, argued that it would ‘lack heart and soul’ – in contrast to Russia 2018 or Qatar 2022, no doubt.
Even if you don’t buy Platini’s ideological rhetoric, it is easy to see why many National Associations and their fanbases are supportive. Nations who would never have had the stadia, infrastructure or finances to contemplate hosting a tournament – particularly the enlarged 24-team version – will now be able to stage a number of EURO matches. Denmark, Hungary and Romania are among the nations hosting three group games, plus a round of 16 games – a fantastic prospect for their local economies and football supporters.
Amid these differing perspectives, what of the opportunity for brands? Initial reaction from existing UEFA sponsors was relatively guarded – adidas commented that ‘we see a lot of potential in UEFA’s plans for EURO 2020’, and Carlsberg described the plans as ‘interesting’. Neither exactly a ringing endorsement, but there is no benefit in showing their hand too early, or too publicly. Clearly there are significant operational challenges for brands in managing a tournament sponsorship across myriad markets, but there are also plenty of reasons why CMOs should give EURO 2020 serious consideration.
MORE THAN A TOURNAMENT
|The reinvention of EUROs goes beyond the evolution to a city-based model for 2020. The whole structure of National Team football in Europe is being reinvented. Out go the majority of meaningless friendly matches, in comes a new competition called the UEFA Nations League, a UEFA Nations League ‘Final 4’ tournament, a streamlined qualification process, and a more centralised UEFA-controlled rights programme. It may take a while for brands, and fans, to get their heads around the changes (explained in detail here), but the implications are clear: more competitive and meaningful matches; headline tournaments over three consecutive summers (Final 4 in 2019, EUROs in 2020, Final 4 in 2021); and ultimately a broader brand activation platform with more ‘tent poles’ over a four-year cycle.The new structure requires long-term planning and lends itself to a considered strategic approach, both over time and across markets. How should activation be prioritised across Nations League, Final 4, qualifiers and the EUROs? Are the subsidiary opportunities testing grounds for EURO campaigns, or do they require different insights and strategic considerations? Waking up to the opportunity a year out from EURO 2020 will mean you’ve missed much of its potential.It may take time to build equity in the Nations League, and for winning the ‘Final 4’ to develop prestige and cachet. But brands prepared to take a slight leap of faith, rather than stand on the side-lines, will no doubt be rewarded. Fingers crossed we can bid farewell to consolidated perimeter board purchase across European football – those largely unstrategic media buys for brands wanting instant exposure – and that those federations who have retained some control of some inventory will reserve such assets for their long-term brand partners.|
It is almost too obvious to state, but the new structure means more matches, featuring more nations, hosted in more countries, engaging more fans. It is hard to see how that wouldn’t create a greater opportunity for brands, particularly those with commercial interests across the region. It will certainly help that four of the traditional ‘Big 5’ markets – England, Spain, Italy and Germany – have been selected for EURO 2020 hosting duties. Having 13 host markets presents a far more balanced activation opportunity than traditional tournament structures, where there is an inevitable concentration of value in the host market. And it potentially makes the investment decision that much easier, with fair share contributions from all host market budgets, without one market having to stump up the lion’s share.
“Getting your message across the whole of Europe is more attractive, it’s more effective.”
More host nations means more stakeholders with skin in the game, on the hook to stage a successful series of matches. So, more governments supporting their federations, more tourism agencies championing their host cities, more federations mobilising members, volunteers and schools. There may even be a hint of competition between the hosts to deliver the most celebrated EURO 2020 experience. It all adds up to a very broad stakeholder group, and broader engaged communities, with new budgets, collaborations and partnerships for brands to explore and exploit.
The perception of EURO 2020 will be all-important for brands signing on UEFA’s dotted line. Will the tournament lack a coherent identity, and should that put sponsors off? Tournaments are often designed in their host’s image, taking stylistic cues from the national identity of the host market. But that often leads to a creative straight-jacket for sponsors, and some pretty generic approaches – see 2014 FIFA World Cup for the proliferation of ‘Brazilian’-themed campaigns.
|EURO 2020 is more of a blank canvas, and ‘European-ness’ a less tangible characteristic. You could argue that it is more a political than cultural construct, particularly in light of ‘Brexit’, and there could certainly be some interesting geo-political considerations at play for brands talking up the power of football to ‘unite’. Regardless, the tournament should provide a creatively liberating opportunity for brands to anchor their insights and creative ideas in the traditional themes of football, unencumbered by an overtly national tournament identity.“(EURO 2020) will be decidedly continental and profoundly European.”|
–Michel PlatiniPress coverage has a huge influence on the tournament perception, and this is another area where EURO 2020 could break the mould. There is a fairly established news agenda around major international tournaments – successful hosting bid announced; concerns raised over the cost of staging the event; nervousness about readiness of stadia; post-event harping about the financial burden, the white elephant stadia and the dreaded ‘L’ word. With EURO 2020, there have been no grand promises to create a lasting ‘legacy’, not one new stadium built, and the financial burden has been spread 13 ways. There may be other issues that render the event a journalistic punching bag, but brands can hope for a much more positive dialogue around their showpiece sponsorship property.INNOVATION AND FLEXIBILITY
Two words not often associated with global rightsholders. However, the restructuring of European National Team football could be seen as an indication that UEFA are prepared to rip up the rule book and embrace new ideas and approaches. Certainly, our recent discussions with UEFA suggest a genuine willingness to explore new rights and opportunities. The fact that they have been consulting brand-side agencies such as Synergy to sense-check brand requirements ahead of the sales process augurs well.
On a practical level, UEFA are unencumbered by any existing sponsor relationships. The current cycle ends in 2018, so it is a clean slate for brands champing at the bit for a piece of EURO action. Apparently all categories are fair game, so we could see a dethroning of erstwhile EURO partners such as adidas, Carlsberg and McDonald’s, and those traditionally locked out given access to the biggest party in European football. The sponsorship structure is still to be confirmed, but there will certainly be packages across the entire UEFA National Team Partnership portfolio, and specific EURO 2020 packages would make sense. It will be interesting to see whether UEFA countenance more flexible brand partnerships – such as localised deals specific to individual hosting markets, or title sponsorship of the Final 4 tournament. The ability to prioritise investment according to business footprint and priority markets would be a strong selling point for many brands.
Arguably the most important question for any CMO will be ‘Is my audience interested?’ EURO is a proven concept, with interest and viewing figures on an upward curve. EURO 2012’s reach of 1.86 billion was a 30% increase on 2008, with estimates for 2016 sitting at 2.1 billion. The EURO final attracts a live global audience of 300 million, with the average EURO match at 150 million – higher than the Super Bowl. In the UK, the audience for England–Italy at EURO 2012 (20.3m) eclipsed even the highest sports audience for the London 2012 Olympics (17.3m). Sizeable numbers, and evidence that the showpiece tournament floats many a boat. The live cumulative audience across the entire 2018–2022 term – with the new National Team proposition – is estimated in excess of 8 billion.
Yet most assessments of fan interest to date have focused on qualitative, not quantitative, aspects – and many of them negative. The argument goes that fans will be disadvantaged by the cost and complexity of following their team across the continent, and the disparate nature of the tournament makes it far less accessible. Sure, the fans who want to follow their team throughout may have to navigate numerous European cities, but without wanting to belittle the importance of such avid fans, this is a tiny proportion in the grander scheme of things.
In fact, EURO 2020 is arguably the most accessible tournament ever: many more fans will be in relative proximity to a hosting venue and will be able to contemplate attending; matches are being hosted in major cities with excellent transport links (unlike many 2012 and 2016 host cities); and every qualified hosting nation will have two group-stage matches in their own country. Using the teams qualified for EURO 2016 indicatively, that would mean 16 ‘home’ matches played in front of local fans at EURO 2020, as opposed to the three ‘home’ group-stage matches for the French team at this year’s tournament. Creating matches with more meaning – through the Nations League – and a EURO structure that ramps up the local fervour in host markets, should ensure a highly engaged fan base for potential sponsors.