With widespread restrictions on travel and strict pandemic protocols in place, host cities faced an unenviable challenge in creating anything like a normal fan experience during this year’s Uefa European Championship.
Therefore, it is even more impressive that organisers in Copenhagen were able to deliver a fanzone that, from the perspectives of many visitors, set a new benchmark.
The Danish capital’s Football Village proved to be a hit with supporters and industry stakeholders alike.
“I must be careful in calling it the best fan zone in the history of the tournament, but I will allow myself to say that I don’t remember seeing anything like it before,” Uefa general secretary Theodore Theodoridis told Danish broadcaster TV3 during a visit to Copenhagen.
The Football Village was located at Ofelia Plads, a harbourside space, and organisers used the picturesque setting to create an experience that proved welcoming for fans of all ages and orientations.
Inevitably, given the challenges of the pandemic, the Football Village project itself had to overcome some hurdles.
The fanzone had been planned and designed before the pandemic hit, and the eventual postponement of the tournament by 12 months led to the project being refinanced.
“On top of this, suddenly Euro 2020 overlapped with Copenhagen hosting the Tour de France Grand Départ,” explains Ulrich Amundsen, host city manager for Copenhagen during Euro 2020.
“This demanded extreme amounts of collaboration to be able to co-host these two mega events with their different partners and extensive plans for visibility. We manged, but in the
end the Olympics was also moved, and this led to the Grand Départ in Copenhagen being pushed to 2022.
“Finally, we were back on track and with the tournament moved back a year we didn’t really expect Covid to prove too much of challenge.”
Of course, the pandemic was far from over by the time Euro 2020 eventually kicked off on June 11, 2021. Amundsen and his team worked on a number of different scenarios before a plan of action was finalised just two months ahead of the big kick-off.
“A big challenge was how the framework conditions kept changing due to the pandemic,” he says. “Just before the start of Euros we had to introduce a ticketing scheme to the viewing area in order to control the amount of people visiting during matches.
“This was not planned and demanded a new set of skills, but even though this was not an expertise of ours, adapting to circumstances certainly was. This change led to a communications challenge as people were not sure how to visit and it took a week or so to get the message completely understood.
“Owing to restrictions in numbers we also had to introduce much more rigorous security as many people wanted to get in and we even experienced people trying to make their way to the area by swimming.”
Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium hosted four matches during Euro 2020 – Denmark’s three group stage games and the round of 16 clash between Spain and Croatia. A week into the tournament, restrictions were eased in the city and, according to Amundsen, the fanzone ended up being “true to the original plan”.
That plan centred on three main concepts: Park Life, which was inspired by the city’s green areas and allowed visitors to have a kickabout with friends while at the fanzone; Street Life, which called on Copenhagen’s bicycle culture and offered festival activities such as street-soccer, DJs and musicians; and Beach Life, which paid tribute to the harbour and swimming facilities, with a temporary swimming zone set up for guests.
“The ambition of the Football Village was to create a beautiful and engaging activity zone, modelled after Copenhagen and reflecting different aspects and areas of the city,” says Lars Vallentin, senior manager at Wonderful Copenhagen, the official tourism organisation of the Capital Region of Denmark.
“It was important for Copenhagen that the fanzone was uniquely Copenhagen and different from the classic fanzones. It had to be an area that appealed to a broader
group of people and showcased what Copenhagen has to offer.
“The clean water, beautiful architecture, great food, diversity and togetherness; it had to be an area worth visiting for locals and visitors alike, and an area of culture and sport, but not only football. The great success of the area was down to us succeeding in both attracting the classic football audience and also many other people, not least families.”
According to Vallentin, the fanzone took years of planning. A number of local organisations were called upon to keep the site busy during times when matches were not being played, with 60 to 70 outreach activities set up to keep visitors engaged. Other tournaments such as the Pride Cup and Embassy Cup demonstrated Copenhagen’s inclusivity.
“We wanted to put a focus on inclusivity and involvement,” says Vallentin. “People should not just be bystanders looking at activities, but be involved in the sport activities, join the matches on the football and basketball pitch and go for a swim.
“We wanted everyone to join in no matter your age, gender, sexual orientation or if you were blind. This is a focus of the football clubs, and the Football Village was therefore a natural extension of their focus – football is for everyone.”
A Danish heart organisation was also on hand to raise awareness of heart failure following the collapse of Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen during the match against Finland.
“Another very popular feature in the Football Village was the Eriksen Wall,” adds Vallentin. “People could write messages to him, and many people came by to share messages and maybe use it as an outlet for their emotions and a bit of catharsis after a traumatic experience. The wall became quite an attraction and international TV crews flew in to do stories.”
The fanzone attracted 96,000 visitors over the course of the tournament. This was less than originally anticipated when the project was first formulated, but in line with realistic expectations given the lack of international tourists and pandemic restrictions.
However, the concept will be revisited next year as Copenhagen finally welcomes the Grand Départ. An official fan zone will be complemented by a “less commercial” experience known as FestiVelo.
“This area will also be an experience-driven centre of activities for everyone. The Football Village definitely set the bar for fan experiences in Denmark,” says Vallentin, who adds that the zone will once again represent “the Copenhagen way of doing things”.
Given its success in delivering a redefined fan zone concept, do not be surprised if other cities take note of “the Copenhagen way” for future major events.