Multi-Country Event Hosting: UEFA Leads the Way

UEFA’s vision to take its 2020 European Championships to a multi-host format has been hailed by some as a masterstroke, while others fear it is a sign of desperate measures.

On paper, it looks like an event manager’s nightmare: 24 teams, 13 host countries, millions of fans, scores of airports and airlines, dozens of languages and only one rights-holder. UEFA president Michel Platini gave the first indication European football’s governing body would be switching to a pan-European format for its flagship international tournament on the eve of the Euro 2012 final last June. The Frenchman’s message that “12 or 13 host cities could host Euro 2020” got a mixed reception by the international football community – some said it could provide an innovative commercial platform for UEFA’s partners, while others argued it showed a lack of bidding appetite for the tournament.

Eyebrows were raised last year as original 2020 bidding favourites Turkey were also considering a bid for the 2020 Olympic Games, and the only other competition was joint bids from Georgia and Azerbaijan, and a late Celtic submission from Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Fast-forward to the present day, and UEFA confirmed in September that 32 nations had declared an interest in hosting matches at Euro 2020, with Spain considering bids from four cities.Other declarations of interest have come from England (London), France (Lyon), Germany (Munich), Italy (Rome, Milan), Netherlands (Amsterdam), Russia (St. Petersburg) and Turkey (Istanbul). 

David Taylor is former general secretary for UEFA and currently acts as UEFA’s corporate business advisor. He rejects any notion that the pan-European format was initiated due to a lack of appetite from bidders to host the event.

“I’m sure this [new format] was not borne out of necessity,” he told SportBusiness International at this year’s Leaders in Football conference in London. “It was borne out of a desire to innovate and strengthen our international competitions. Just look at what we are doing with our centralisation of rights through [sports marketing agency] CAA Eleven. We are continually trying to improve every part of the competition.”

Euro 2020 will see football matches split into 13 different packages, with 12 standard offerings including three group matches and one knockout round (second round or quarter-finals), and one package for the semi-finals and the final. Each of the 32 countries who have expressed an interest will only be allowed to present up to two bids – one for the standard package and one for the semi-finals/final package. 

Each national association can decide to present the same city or two different cities for the two separate packages, but UEFA will only appoint one venue per country. The countries have the right to change their initial host city selection, but must submit their final bid dossier by April 25 next year, before UEFA selects the 13
hosts on September 25.

Host with the Most

Taylor believes the key to success for the bidding nations next spring will be showing UEFA which venues will help make the event “rise above the general commercial noise” in their city. “If you look at it from the commercial angle, all I can see is major opportunities considering the markets potentially available,” he adds. 

“If you look back to Ukraine and Poland, the commercial level of these countries compared to previous hosts was possibly less developed in those terms. However, with the 2020 model, you are potentially talking about markets in Spain, UK, Germany and so on – these are mature and developed sports markets that will be of great interest to our commercial partners. Because it is a long way off, our partners are more concerned about what they will be doing around Euro 2016 in France. In theory, I understand the concern [from partners about moving to a pan-regional event model], but we are talking about major brands which will be operating in some of Europe’s biggest markets.

For the most part, they’ll plug in very quickly. “In theory, it is complicated, but in practice I imagine it is a lot simpler as many of these brands will have an in-market presence already. Ultimately, the national football associations will decide if this is going to be a permanent format going forward. They are our shareholders and it
will be their call.”

Aside from satisfying commercial partners, Taylor says other issues include working out a blueprint to ease the strain on fans and players travelling to and from stadia dotted all around the continent. This will be made harder by the tournament switching from 16 teams to 24 teams for the first time in Euro 2016, something that will bring further headaches in terms of countries finding appropriate training camps, team transportation and satisfying visa requirements. In terms of the fan experience – whether or not fans will feel as though they are part of a single event if they are watching their team play in Valencia one week, and then potentially
travelling to St. Petersburg for the next round – Taylor is positive. “It’s not a worry but we have to consider very carefully how we are going to promote this tournament,” he says. “One thing I would say is in Poland and Ukraine it was a good two or three thousand miles between [host venues] Donetsk and Gdansk, so fans had travel issues then as well.

“The challenges will not be hugely different for the 2020 format, and again we will be looking for ideas from the bidding cities to combat these concerns.”

Plan B, Plan C, Plan D…

Just as UEFA began to map out a strategy for its 2020 pan-European Championships, reports surfaced of alternative blueprints for the tournament. Last month, UEFA dismissed reports in the UK that it was considering extending the European Championships by inviting national sides from other confederations, such as Brazil or Japan, to take part in the Euros as a wildcard.

However, another proposal appeared a few days later that appeared to carry more credibility – a new Nations League competition that was floated at a UEFA Executive Committee meeting Dubrovnik in September. In an attempt to improve the appeal of international football from 2018 onwards, it would involve all UEFA’s 54 members divided into, potentially, a series of nine divisions based on their recent results, with promotion and relegation following each round of matches. 

The winner of the first division would be UEFA’s Nations League champion and would win a substantial prize, with the bottom team in each division being relegated in favour of the winner of the tier below. The UEFA Executive Committee is currently evaluating this proposal, alongside others, before deciding on the
best way to proceed in the future.

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