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Pan-continental Euro 2020 offers “unparalleled commercial platform”, argues Uefa’s Guy-Laurent Epstein

Uefa marketing director Guy-Laurent Epstein tells Adam Nelson how the body has devised a new commercial structure to take advantage of the the pan-continental format for the 2020 European Championship.

NYON, SWITZERLAND - NOVEMBER 14: UEFA Events SA Marketing Director Guy-Laurent Epstein during the UEFA National Team Football Workshop at the UEFA headquarters, the House of European Football on November 14, 2018 in Nyon, Switzerland. (Photo by Harold Cunningham - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

  • Uefa targeting as much as $800m in commercial revenue from Euro 2020, a 60-per-cent increase over 2016.
  • Four-tier sponsorship structure creates scaleable opportunity for brands to activate globally and locally.
  • Epstein confident pan-continental model can provide inspiration for future events.

Pan-European hosting of the 2020 Uefa European Championship offers a “special commercial opportunity for Uefa and all the host countries” and could inspire similar models in the future, according to Guy-Laurent Epstein, Uefa’s marketing director.

The biggest and most expansive edition of the Euros to date celebrates 60 years since the first European Championship in 1960. It will take place in 12 countries across the continent – 13, until the cancelled construction of Brussels’ Eurostadium caused its fixtures to be relocated to London’s Wembley Stadium. London will also host the semi-finals and the final.

“The underlining statement of Euro 2020 is ‘Football Bridging Europe’,” says Epstein. “We thought, for the 60th anniversary, ‘what can we do that is special?’ And the option that we came up with was, rather than having people travel to the Euro, we will bring the Euro to the people – especially to countries that would not be in a position to host a full Euro because of the logistical and infrastructural challenges involved.”

There will be matches in Europe’s footballing heartlands of England, Germany, Italy and Spain – four of the five biggest commercial and media markets, with France missing out as it hosted the last edition. But Euro 2020 will also take place in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, St Petersburg in Russia, Central European capitals Budapest and Bucharest, and smaller Western European nations lacking the infrastructure to host a full tournament, such as Copenhagen in Denmark and Dublin, Ireland. More than half the host cities have never hosted European Championship finals fixtures before.

While Uefa protests that the decision is first and foremost a romantic one, Euro 2020 will be the biggest commercial opportunity the body has ever created for a national team competition. Uefa earned over $500m from its commercial rights for the 2016 European Championships in France; a 65 per cent increase over the $300m it brought in from the previous edition in 2012. Given the expanded reach for its top-tier partners and those sponsors who join for the event itself, plus the addition of up to 24 local sponsors – two in each host nation – Uefa is justified in believing a similar uptick is a realistic baseline target for 2020.

Global and local partnerships

While presenting Uefa with a logistical challenge, the format also offers what Epstein calls an “unparalleled commercial platform”, due not only to the geographical spread but to major changes Uefa made to its own rights-selling process. The commercial model for Euro 2020, Epstein says, does not exist in isolation, but as part of a wider commercial strategy that takes in all Uefa men’s national team competitions.

As well as the 2020 hosting model, the establishment of the Nations League competition, which has replaced most European friendly fixtures and will host its first finals in Portugal in June this year, allowed Uefa to create a totally new commercial platform that offers sponsors opportunities to activate “throughout the calendar and across the continent”, Epstein says.

“We tried to look at the inventory we have for national team football in a universal way,” he explains. “We asked ourselves: ‘What do we do with this now that we have a Euro finals tournament, we have the Nations League finals, and we have the qualification matches?’ And that has helped us to thrust a new offering on the sponsorship market that covers national-team football in general.”

Uefa chose to centralise the commercial rights, selling packages across four tiers for the cycle that began after Euro 2016 and will conclude with the 2021 Nations League finals.

The top tier currently comprises five Global Partners – Alipay, Booking.com, Hisense, Socar and Volkswagen – who will have access to inventory and assets across all Uefa national team properties for the duration their sponsorships. This will include Uefa, Nations League and European Championship marques, on-screen credits during match broadcasts, in-stadium advertising and more.

“The beauty of this is that it offers a recurrence in the touch points for sponsors with international team football,” says Epstein. “It is not all directed towards the Euro itself, but they get the qualifiers, the Nations League finals in the odd years – so 2019 and 2021 – and the Euro in 2020. There’s more recurrence throughout the calendar than in the past, where we had only the Euro product to sell, and in only one country, whereas these Euros are in 12 different countries.”

According to reports, Alibaba-owned Alipay is paying $25m a year for its position as Uefa’s Official Payment Partner until the end of 2026. The other top-tier partners are expected to be putting up similar amounts, and Uefa has confirmed it will add a further sponsor to this tier later in March, before the first round of Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The second tier will be “dedicated partners for Euro 2020, because there are still companies who want to come on board just for the event but don’t feel like they are in a position to be a long-term sponsor of Uefa,” says Epstein. Like the top-tier partners, these sponsors will be able to activate across Europe and throughout the month-long tournament next year, as well as using Uefa branding in their marketing materials in the build up to the Euros.

As of March 2019, there are no sponsors signed up for this tier, but they will be added as the competition approaches, with these deals likely to be worth in the region of $5m each, according to SportBusiness Sponsorship estimates. Uefa has not stated how many second-tier sponsors it is looking to add. For the 2016 European Championship in France, there were ten global partners and six national ones, so the figure could be expected to fall within that region.

The third tier is unique to the Euro 2020 format. Uefa is inviting up to 24 sponsors – two from each country – to become National Supporters of Euro 2020 in six different categories: banking, insurance, telecoms, human resources, rail and airlines. Potential sponsors can bid in more than one host country.

“The idea is that we have a top-down approach,” say Epstein. “We were looking to fill all of our Global Sponsor slots before we opened the process for the National Supporters so that, for instance, if we signed a bank on the global level, we wouldn’t open the category for local banks.

“The categories we’re looking at are all very natural categories for national sponsorships, because they are traditionally decentralised and are also potentially relevant in terms of the event delivery. Telcos, for instance, are an important part of the tournament in terms of transmission.”

This is particularly meaningful in the UK – a key location as the venue for the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final as well as eight games, more than any other country, shared between London and Glasgow earlier in the tournament – where advertising regulations limit certain activations to companies who are involved with the technical delivery of events.

As it is a completely new tier, Uefa is reluctant to discuss its revenue expectations from the National Supporters.

Adjacent to this category, Uefa is also planning a bidding process to find a beer sponsor for each of the 12 countries that would receive pouring rights in stadiums and fan zones. While it is likely a small number of brands will fill this category in multiple countries, Uefa is opening the bidding to beer brands in each country.

Epstein continues: “It’s great for us to go to Romania, Hungary, Denmark, Ireland for instance, but it is also great for those countries to host such a significant event.

“In that month, the Euro will be the most relevant thing, and because they’re hosting fixtures, you get the country’s interest throughout the games there, not just when those country’s teams are involved, which is maybe what happens during a normal Euro. It’s a chance for us to reach people directly, locally with a significantly stronger engagement from their side I believe.”

Epstein emphasises that this is relevant across all Uefa’s sponsorship tiers, not just the National Supporters.

“The tier-one and two partners benefit from this too,” he says. “If in a normal Euro you are activating to fans as they watch their teams across the continent and then in the host country, here you have higher engagement in 12 countries, who are paying attention to more games over a longer period. This, of course, adds value to all our sponsorship packages for 2020.

“You create a bigger interest from the broadcasters, which is not focused only on their team participating but also on the games that are in their stadium and the fact that it’s an event of national importance, especially in the small- and mid-sized countries we go to. In my view, it will be bigger and better engagement than we’ve seen before, but also far more spread out.”

The fourth and smallest tier is licensing, currently filled by Panini, which will produce the official sticker book for the tournament, and sport agency giant IMG, which returns as Uefa’s exclusive master licensee after a successful collaboration in 2016.

Challenges and opportunities

While Uefa has experience with multi-country hosting – the Euros of 2000, 2008 and 2012 were all split across two neighbouring countries – a national-team competition distributed in this way is unprecedented. When it comes to helping its partners activate across the more complicated sponsorship platform, Uefa has turned toward its Champions League and Europa League club competitions for guidance.

“It’s exactly the concept of the Champions League, too: bringing football to the fans,” Epstein says. “When we think about bridging Europe, of hosting matches and working with local organising committees from Scotland to Azerbaijan, where the structure of the local markets is totally different, that is quite a challenge. But for us, we are in Baku every year with [Azerbaijani club team] Qarabag competing in the Europa League, last year they made the Champions League. So we have had the opportunity to enhance the way we work in those markets.”

In terms of the organisation of activations, that has meant Uefa and its Global Sponsors establishing multiple teams across Europe, “to make sure that the implementation and activation is done correctly in each market. We and our partners need to be sure we have people working in markets who know those markets, because what will work in London or Rome is not the same as what will work in Russia or Romania.”

That “decentralisation”, he says, is the biggest challenge. “But I must say that so far, the partners see it more as an opportunity than a challenge, and we are approaching it the same way. It’s been a great way to learn about the sponsorship environments across different locations.”

A second important angle, Epstein adds, is that a significant amount of activation will take place across digital and social media platforms, which decreases some of the burden on local sponsorship teams and places less emphasis on physical assets. Regardless of where a European Championship takes place, competitions on this scale are increasingly detached from their host location, he says. According to research carried out by London-based analytics firm SnapRapid for SportBusiness, the Euro 2016 final alone generated over $20m in social media value for its sponsors, a figure that is expected to grow significantly for 2020.

“The way partners are leveraging and activating their sponsorships is a lot digital nowadays. That is how they reach the biggest audience and engage the most consumers. We are helping them a lot with our own digital assets to leverage and activate their partnership with us on the digital level. There are no real boundaries to it, it’s really global activations for those global partners.”

Where physical assets are concerned, a further upside to the pan-continental format is that each stadium used is “among the biggest and best in their respective countries, so the collective stadium capacity is bigger than you will find in one country,” Epstein says. The amount of stadium inventory available around the competition will be much higher than most Euros.

As major sporting events continue to spiral in terms of scale and cost, rights-holders such as the IOC and Fifa have found it increasingly difficult to attract viable bidders for their showpieces. Since Uefa expanded the European Championship to 24 teams, it has awarded the competition to France, Germany – which will host Euro 2024 – and devised the pan-continental format for 2020, but the increased size of the tournament may present challenges for those medium and smaller-sized countries.

Should 2020 prove a success, particularly on the commercial side, Epstein says it is a model that could offer an inspiration for future tournaments, if on a slightly smaller scale. “Of course, we know that it is a great opportunity to get greater engagement from multiple countries than a single one,” he says. “It also relieves the hosting burden from any one country, because with 24 teams competing, you need at least ten highest quality stadiums, you need all the facilities, airports, et cetera. The countries that have the opportunity to do it is limited, and we would always look for ways to keep taking the Euro to as many people and parts of Europe as possible.”

On whether a 12-country format is likely again, Epstein says that fewer would be preferable, but adds that “it could be multiple countries, and multiple, has no limit as a concept. I think the most effective is two, as we have done, [but] it could be three, could be four. Here we made it 12 as a celebration of the Euro and of football across Europe.”

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