EURO 2020 – building bridges

08.06.2021

UEFA EURO 2020 will go down in football history as an exceptional, historic event, both for being the first pan-European national team tournament and for all the disruption the coronavirus pandemic caused for the organizers, hosts and participating teams. Indeed, the European Championship this year will be staged in 11 cities across the continent, and the global health crisis not only forced organizers to postpone the event an entire year, it also triggered changes ranging from venue selection to some on-pitch rules. The original competition slogan "Building Bridges" consequently derived additional meaning: beyond connecting Europe, it symbolizes the hope of allowing fans more direct contact with the game after a year of forced isolation.

In 2012, then-UEFA President Michel Platini raised the idea that the Euro 2020 could be spread across 12 or 13 cities in Europe, as a one-off event to celebrate the 60th "birthday" of the European Championship competition. He also argued that in the wake of the global financial crisis, organizing a pan-European event would be a lot easier from a financial perspective, as “there would be no need to build stadiums or airports”.

Moreover, the expanded format of the tournament – which was introduced as of 2016, with 24 national teams participating instead of 16, and thus with 51 matches to be played instead of 31 – posed additional costs for the potential organizers. That was seen as the main reason why only one country, Turkey, put forward a serious bid for the 2020 event as the sole potential country host. Also, joint organization was not unprecedented for UEFA: neighbouring countries Poland and Ukraine staged the tournament in that year, in addition to Belgium and Netherlands in 2000 and Austria and Switzerland in 2008.

Venues and spectators

The Platini concept was finally approved, originally involving 13 host countries/cities, which eventually got trimmed to 11 over subsequent years, including Amsterdam, Baku, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome, Saint Petersburg and Seville. In 2017, Brussels was removed from the original list due to delays in the construction of what would have been a new “Eurostadium” (which has subsequently been scuttled), while the other two changes were direct consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although UEFA insisted that every host city must guarantee there would be spectators at their games, Dublin and Bilbao were not able to make such a commitment due to the uncertainty of the public health situation on the ground. Dublin therefore pulled out from the group of host cities, with matches relocated to Saint Petersburg and London, while Bilbao was replaced by Seville. To add to the organizational woes, Baku was also in doubt for a period of time for a different reason: the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan during 2020 appeared to scuttle hosting plans, however the ceasefire agreement between the two countries from December 2020 was enough to ensure hosting plans could advance safely.

Although having spectators has been a key demand of UEFA, most venues will not be able to operate at full capacity, with restrictions on public gatherings still in place in many countries. In contrast to Dublin and Bilbao, other host cities were able to confirm their stadium capacity allowances, ranging from 22% to 100%. Hungary has been the only country to allow for a full house in the 67k-seat Puskás Aréna, with strict stadium entry requirements, followed by Baku and Saint Petersburg, who confirmed their venue capacity at around 50%, both letting approximately 34k fans attend games. The other host cities are planning to operate at lower capacity, with spectators at around 15-20k, in most cases subject to a possible increase as circumstances may permit.

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Interestingly, six countries—Azerbaijan, Denmark, Hungary, Romania, Russia and Scotland—have never staged a European Championship match previously, while of the 11 selected stadia, only two have hosted a Euro tournament match before: the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, not counting the former Wembley Stadium.

Participating countries

Of the 24 teams that qualified for the tournament, Finland and North Macedonia will make their Euro debut, and 19 countries are returning from the 2016 edition. Germany, along with defending European champions Portugal and world champions France, boast having qualified for a record 13th straight European Championship. With the exception of Romania and Azerbaijan, 9 of the 11 host countries managed to qualify for the tournament.

Regarding trophies, 10 national teams have won the past 15 editions: Germany and Spain each have three titles, France has two, and the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece and Portugal have won one title each. Spain has been the only team so far to have won consecutive Euro titles, in 2008 and 2012.

This year’s tournament may celebrate new winners: a revitalized, young England squad are seen by many as one of the favourites to win the European Championship for the first time, similarly to Belgium, who could also collect their first Euro trophy.  

The chart that follows provides a snapshot of the experience and composition of the 26-member squads of the 24 national teams. Interestingly, England have one of the youngest and the least experienced squads, whereas almost all of their players ply their trade in the highest ranked football league, the English Premier League. By contrast, Belgium have one of the oldest teams and almost the full squad play abroad. Ukraine provide yet another example: they have a rather young, but more closely-knit team, with 10 players coming from the same club, Ukrainian title-winners Dynamo Kyiv.

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Revenues and benefits

Beyond fame and glory, each team receives a participation fee of EUR 9.25 million, according to the tournament’s prize money system. Progressing teams will receive further performance and participation bonuses, and the winner (playing altogether seven matches) can earn a maximum of EUR 34 million.

Euro 2020 also provides a great platform for players to exhibit their talents and improve their positions on the market. Unsurprisingly, many clubs and players have postponed transfer decisions until the end of the tournament, hoping to see players’ values increase after a successful campaign and thus offer the chance for more lucrative transfer deals before the new season starts.

Globally, over 2 billion viewers are expected to follow the live matches, with individual games projected to attract an audience of around 140-150 million viewers. The final of the most recent European Championship, with Portugal beating France in Paris in 2016, averaged 284 million viewers, and was the second most viewed game in the tournament’s history. The record is held by the Euro 2012 final (Spain defending their title with a 4–0 win over Italy in Kyiv,) which was watched by a global audience of around 300 million.

Selling broadcasting rights to local media firms also generates significant revenues. In Germany, for example, ARD and ZDF will televise almost all games live, and the reported EUR 150 million deal also covers internet and social media platforms. Similarly, BBC and ITV secured rights to cover the tournament in the UK over several channels for a reported fee of GBP 140 million. 

Global sponsors are lining up hoping fans will be engrossed by the month-long football fiesta – however, this year’s line-up provides some new elements. The list of the 12 main sponsors—Alipay, Booking.com, Coca-Cola, FedEx, Heineken, Hisense, Qatar Airways, SOCAR, Takeaway.com, Tik Tok, vivo and Volkswagen—features only two brands, Hisense and Coca-Cola, who remained from the 2016 register. In perusing the chart that follows, which lists the EURO 2020 sponsors, it is important to note that several deal values extend over multiple tournaments. Alipay, for example, signed an 8-year partnership, which includes all UEFA national team football competitions from 2018 to 2026.

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A common feature of most of the new sponsors is that they target digital age fans/consumers, many of them performed well during the pandemic and are already leading businesses – such as Alipay, the world’s largest mobile money services provider with a clientele base of around 900 million. They also see Euro 2020 as the perfect platform to help them to develop and strengthen their positions in the global markets in terms of credibility and trust. All in all, the new variety of sponsors includes younger brands, replacing established global mega-brands – indeed, while the average corporate “age” of Euro 2016 sponsors was 84 years, it is only 44 years for Euro 2020 sponsors1. Notably, Tik Tok didn’t even exist at the time of the last Euro tournament. It is also remarkable to see several Chinese firms—Alipay, Hisense, Tik Tok and Vivo—emerge as main sponsors, demonstrating an interest in European football in a country with a population of over 1.4 billion, where the Euro 2016 final was seen by approximately 56 million people.

Further changes

Further changes to the rules of the competition have been introduced to lessen the impacts of the pandemic on the participating players and teams. There will be five substitutions available in matches, with a 6th allowed in extra time. In addition, national squads were expanded from the usual 23 players to 26, providing more selection for managers in case of a potential COVID outbreak on a team, and helping them to reduce player fatigue and the risk of injuries in the wake of an exceptionally congested season, as detailed in FIFPRO’s recent study entitled “Player workload & recovery during the emergency calendar”. The latest rule change was announced just last week: a new “handball rule” settles that accidental handball by a forward in the build-up to a goal will not be penalised at Euro 2020.  

Another novelty of the tournament is unrelated to the pandemic—the video assistant referee (VAR) system will make its debut at the European Championship this year.


1By Mark Lloyd, strategy director at Dark Horses, in ”It's out with the old brands, in with the new at Uefa Euro 2020