Blog

EURO 2020: Why Brands Should Set Their Field of Vision Beyond 2016

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.”
–Michel Platini

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.

SIZE MATTERS

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.”
–Karen Earl Chairman of the European Sponsorship Association

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.

IDENTITY CRISIS

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.

WHO CARES?

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.

Pepsi’s UCL Final Show: Was Alicia Really Key?

The 2016 UEFA Champions League Final, held in the San Siro Stadium in Milan, may have featured many of the household names of world football, but it looked and sounded very different to previous events. Pepsi, as part of its UCL sponsorship activation, presented a live performance by US artist Alicia Keys as part of the pre-match entertainment.

With the eyes of the world focused on Milan for a moment of such sporting – if not cultural – significance, I found myself torn by Pepsi’s decision to activate the entertainment rights. On the one hand, I really wanted to see music and sport coming together on the biggest European stage, helping prove that successfully blending these twin passions was not the preserve of US sports. It would have been brilliant for everyone: the fans, the music industry, the world of sport, and – of course – the brand behind the moment.

On the other hand, I was concerned about the approach that Pepsi had taken in activating its moment: namely by its choice of artist and the material played. At our 2016 #TalkinRevolution event (where we covered the future of music and brand partnerships), we highlighted the fact that successful brand-led music campaigns generally start with the idea first and the artist second. So: was Alicia Keys chosen before or after Pepsi decided on this activation?

To be clear, I have no issue with Alicia Keys; on the contrary, she’s a loved, accomplished and highly talented artist, and the single she was promoting, ‘In Common’, is a beautiful song. She has a significant digital footprint, with 34m Facebook fans (nb. It was 38m at the original time of writing this) and 24m Twitter followers, so from the perspective of a brand ‘media buy’, the thinking is easy to understand. Reach, however, is no longer the key metric. Depth of engagement is far more important, and I don’t believe there is (or was, on the evening) a deep, authentic engagement between Alicia and the UCL’s overwhelming football fan audience. Sure, her Italian heritage may have provided Pepsi an angle for choosing her, but other than that, what was the fit? Having spent time working at Sony Music, I know for a fact that Alicia is naturally more fitting for a female audience, yet both the TV viewers and stadium spectators were largely male…

On top of this is the set-list performed by the artist. In order for music to speedily connect with an audience on an emotional level – in the limited time available at such events – what is ideally required is either a level of pre-existing familiarity with the material, or a simple, catchy hook. At the 2014 FIFA World Cup, I co-wrote and delivered the tournament’s official anthem, which played out as winners Germany were handed the World Cup Trophy. Seeing 78,000 spectators jumping up and down in unison to the track we produced was testament to the emotional engagement that the right beat or lyric – let alone choice of artist – can deliver. What Alicia focused on, however, was a performance of mostly new tracks from her recently launched album. This meant that TV viewers and the stadium audience alike were hearing predominantly new, unfamiliar music, with no in-built engagement properties, which, rather than setting an epic tone for the UCL Final, risked their pre-match set-piece generating indifference or even negativity.

The right choice of artist and the right type of material may well stem from one place: the right contract with management and/or the record label. It’s clear that the thought of audiences from 220 countries tuning into her performance at the Final would have been music to the ears of Alicia’s label, RCA (though perhaps not so much for the fans), but was this a case of the tail wagging the dog?

The UEFA Champions League Final could have been European football's equivalent to the Super Bowl Halftime and Pepsi's investment should have had measurable KPIs and a high ROI. In fact, it should have become a case study for brands to take note of. If this kind of approach is going to work for Pepsi in the future, I would suggest that the sound and feel of both the music and artist values must match the target market and the mood / state of mind of the fans and viewers. Additionally of course the brand values of the artist should mirror – or at least feel appropriate to – those of the sponsor brand. The good news is that even the mighty NFL can get it wrong: Coldplay’s back catalogue at Super Bowl 50 couldn’t compete with the upbeat, floor-filling energy of performances by Bruno (Mars) and Beyoncé.

The future of music (and related brand partnerships) at major European sport events depends on campaigns like this working. Let’s hope brands start to approach music in a more strategic manner soon. There are some incredible opportunities to make music work extremely hard for brands. It simply needs the right thought through approach.

You can hear Alicia Keys new single on Spotify here.

Why winning the Premier League is more than just priceless to fans

Leicester City are three points from writing their own happy ending to one of the greatest sporting stories of modern times. What’s more, their closest rivals to claiming the coveted silverware are not one of the traditional ‘Big Four’, but Tottenham Hotspur. An unlikely pairing and an unlikely tale for the richest football league in the world.

With a new name set to be engraved on the trophy, an exciting new avenue of commercial opportunities is set to be opened up, but who’s set to benefit from this?

THE CLUBS

Put simply, the club will make more money. Considerable amounts of money.

Let’s start with the basics – the winners of the Premier League will not only take home the trophy, but will also bank a £24.7m cheque for their efforts. Plus, with UEFA Champions League revenues to come for both clubs next season, they can look forward to anything between £10m to £55m of additional income. To put these figures into perspective, Leicester City’s commercial and sponsorship income in 2012 was just £5.2m.

The financial impact goes beyond just prize money – the real commercial win comes through an expanded fan base, both at home, and, more lucratively, abroad. The recent trend has seen Premier League clubs spend their pre-season on money-making tours in the Far East and America – emerging markets where they can capitalise on both fan engagement and brand investment.

Winning the Premier League will undoubtedly gain Leicester an army of new fans across the globe (their story has already won them hearts on home shores). If you don’t believe it, just look at the differences between the Twitter exchanges – both in terms of language and pure numbers – when Leicester announced they were safe from relegation in last season, to when they announced they had made the Champions League this season.

A global fan base can lend itself to a new approach to sponsorship – dividing up regions and sponsor categories to allow for the monetisation of countless deals. Manchester United claim an ‘Official Casual Footwear Partner for South Korea’, Chelsea boast an ‘Official Whiskey Partner in Myanmar’, while Arsenal have an ‘Official Telecommunications Partner in Indonesia’. Could we soon see these types of deals for Leicester?

In terms of adding fans, there isn’t just a global benefit, but a local one too. Leicester’s average attendance in the League two seasons ago was 24,990, which is close to 10,000 fans below stadium capacity. This season, you can’t get a ticket for love nor money at the King Power Stadium, with reports that touts are selling tickets to Leicester’s final game of the season for £15,000. The demand to watch the Foxes live – and be a part of the fairytale – is greater than ever.

Leicester don’t just become more attractive to potential sponsors because of the additional reach and bigger fan base. The authentic money-can’t-buy narrative will have brands falling over themselves to be part of it. In sport, the greater the odds of success, the greater the story, and the odds have never been greater in the Premier League. A Cinderella rags-to-riches story that provides a welcome relief from past rhetoric of wealth that surrounds the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.

THE PREMIER LEAGUE

The Premier League will be delighted at how the season has played out. Now, they can rightly claim back their title of being the most exciting league in the world. In Spain, just three different teams have won the title over the past decade, with FC Barcelona dominating with six wins in the past 10 seasons. In Italy, again it’s just three teams, with Inter Milan and Juventus splitting the success between them, and AC Milan winning once.

This season, by contrast, the Premier League has been entirely unpredictable. The likelihood of Leicester finishing top of the table was almost impossible in August, and only a fool would have placed any money on their starting odds of 5000/1 to win the league. Don’t we all wish we were fools…?

And that £5bn the Premier League sold the broadcast rights for? It increasingly looks like better value for the broadcasters that shelled out. This exciting season has captured the imagination of fans around the world and will have re-inforced the unique appeal of English football..

As the Premier League seeks global domination in search of more riches, stories like that of Leicester City can only help. Historically viewed as the flashiest, most commercial, most money-obsessed league (both in terms of wages and ticket prices), this season has turned this stereotype on its head. Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy cost the Foxes less than £1.5m combined. In fact, Claudio Ranieri’s entire squad cost a total of £54.4m – one eighth of big spending Man City, and still one third of their nearest title rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

A huge PR win for the Premier league, and let’s face it, you can’t buy coverage like this…

Yes, that’s Leicester City Football Club, on the front cover of the Wall Street Journal – heady times for the club.

THE PLAYERS

Where once Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Sergio Aguero and Luis Suárez were the darlings of sponsors, these household names may soon be replaced by younger, fresher names like Alli, Kane, Kanté, Vardy and Mahrez. Players catapulted from relative obscurity into the limelight, not burdened by huge deals and with the ability to make the most cynical football fan appreciate their talent. It’s reasonable to assume that they will soon be boosting their earning power exponentially through personal sponsorship deals. As an example, Rooney is estimated to be making around £5m a year from private endorsements alone.

And it doesn’t stop there. Vardy’s meteoric rise from Non-League to Premier League has been likened to that of a Hollywood script…and media reports suggest that this could actually happen. When you consider the only other movies in recent times about football careers were about the Class of ’92 – charting the most successful team in English history – and Cristiano Ronaldo, it highlights how enraptured the public are with Vardy’s story.

ENGLAND

Most of the ‘Golden Generation’ have retired, having disappointed fans with their underachievement for over a decade. There has been a noticeable lack of excitement and enthusiasm for the national team…until this season.

Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur boast English talent like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Jamie Vardy, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Danny Drinkwater. These new names have revived a nation’s hope and expectation with their young, fresh approach to the game (and beating Germany in their own backyard didn’t hurt).

This fresh crop of England players, not tainted or weighed down with past failures, will shift shirts in huge numbers before EURO 2016, which is great news for Nike. Fans have once again been drawn back towards the national team and it’s these players’ names that will grace the back of England shirts up and down the country – even Rooney’s kids want Vardy on theirs.

Mars, Vauxhall, Lidl and other England sponsors will also benefit – they have seen much of the cynicism around their prize assets disappear this season, transformed into newfound hope and positivity around the team.

QUIDS IN

It’s clear that pound signs will be flashing in the eyes of the winning club, the Premier League, the players, the FA and sponsors. The big question is whether this is a one-season wonder or the start of a new order. Can Leicester build on this and become truly dominant forces on the pitch in England and Europe, and around the world commercially?

Even Spurs, should they finish second, will have stepped out of the shadow of the dominant clubs in the Premier League and stand to gain financially off the pitch. One thing’s for certain: if Leicester and Spurs manage to continue their charge in the UEFA Champions League next season, the Big Four could start to shift uncomfortably in their boardroom chairs.