Euro 2016 A French Lesson in Events Management

Allianz Riviera Stadium

The Allianz Riviera Stadium, Nice

In June 2016 France will play host to one of Europe's most eagerly anticipated sporting events, the UEFA Euro 2016. With the international sporting spotlight focused on the nation over the course of a month-long competition that will see 51 matches unfold in 10 host cities, will France be up to the challenge?

Meanwhile, here in Moscow, key stakeholders in the Russian government and the country's national footballing associations are looking at France's preparations with keen interest. France's UEFA Euro 2016 gives these observers in Russia one last chance to monitor a major international football event before their own country hosts the World Cup in 2018. Any readily transplantable innovations which prove successful in France may consequently look attractive to the Russian organizers of the World Cup.

The legacy of a major international tournament depends not only on the success of the event itself but also on what it delivers by way of a sustainable improvement in the sporting culture or tourist infrastructure of the host country. Given the huge sums of money involved, efficient spending is also a top priority.

Recent sporting history is replete with examples of international sporting competitions which have failed on at least one and sometimes all of these dimensions. Such failures have left a legacy of empty stadiums (South Africa, 2010), or of social unrest caused by citizens questioning the wisdom of such massive financial undertakings in an age of austerity (Brazil, 2014).

France hosted several major football competitions with the Euro in 1984 and the World Cup in 1998. While the event itself was hailed as a great success, many domestic commentators regretted that it did very little to improve French football in the years that followed. This is a particularly important aim for France, where, according to the French journal Challenges, overall annual ticket revenues for matches in the country's top league have stagnated over the last 10 years around a figure of 130–140 million euros.

Furthermore, increasing attendance figures by building new stadiums and upgrading old ones is an area where the kind of government-led stimulus that an international sporting event of this kind mostly represents can have the most long-term influence. The hope is that such a stimulus will lead to a virtuous circle in which increased attendance leads to increased advertising revenues and better players for the clubs which then draw even greater crowds.

The 10 venues selected for the UEFA Euro 2016 include a well-balanced mix of newly built stadiums and upgraded existing infrastructure. Of all the venues only the Stade de France in Paris will be used without significant changes.

The new-builds will go to the cities of Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux and Nice. Of these stadiums, only the Stade des Lumières in Lyon is still under construction. According to UEFA rules, all stadiums used for a Euro competition must meet the standards required of a UEFA category 3 or 4 stadium, which regulate stadium functionality in areas such as seating, lighting, security and media facilities.

Beyond these standard requirements, the stadiums boast additional features and innovations which, according to a recent press release from French construction company VINCI, will ensure they remain "state of the art" for "decades to come." The Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, for example, is the first football stadium in France with a retractable roof, and also features an adjustable pitch which makes the venue multi-functional by providing facilities for basketball, tennis and concerts.

Another first for France is the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice. A public-private partnership project constructed by VINCI, the stadium is one of the greenest in the world, and France's first "positive-energy" stadium. With 7,000 square meters of solar panels covering the stadium's roof, the Allianz Riviera generates three times as much energy as is required to run the stadium itself, feeding its surplus into the grid to power 600 homes in Nice.

As for upgrades to existing stadiums, while the main aim is to increase capacity, opportunities have been taken to improve the overall facilities of the stadiums. The most ambitious of the renovations has been at the Stade Velodrome in Marseilles, an undertaking "comparable to that of building a new stadium" in the words of a UEFA press release. In addition to improved facilities for the press, the upgrade has given the stadium a new roof to address a long-held grievance of Olympique de Marseilles fans that the venue was overexposed to strong mistral winds.

In the initial plan, most of the huge cost (273 million euros) of these improvements was intended to be passed on to the club. For a couple of tense weeks in July last year it looked like the club would be priced out of the very stadium where it had played for decades. Thankfully, a last-minute deal with investors resulted in what Olympique owner Margarita Louis-Dreyfus characterized as "an acceptable compromise for the club and the city of Marseilles."

In total 1.6 billion euros has been invested through a range of both public-private partnerships and exclusively private sector initiatives into the construction of stadiums. According to UEFA this figure represents the entirety of infrastructure investments for the competition, with France able to rely on its superb existing transport and hospitality infrastructure.

UEFA are relying on France's unrivalled reputation as a tourist destination to offer special VIP tickets and corporate packages that offer the opportunity to sample the fine dining and cultural highlights for which the nation is famous. According to their press kit for the event, UEFA plan to "deliver the biggest hospitality program ever to be implemented in France," presumably a kind of Paris Congress of 1815, Exposition Universelle of 1889 and Versailles Peace Conference of 1919 all rolled into one star-studded mega-event. But better, obviously, because there will be more football.

Hospitality services will also benefit from digitalization. Kuoni, the hotel group which has been named as the official accommodation agency for the competition, has already launched a slick website aimed at providing a one-stop resource for helping individuals and groups find hotels. For the first time for an international sporting event, the team base camp catalogue, listing potential hotels and training grounds for national teams, has been produced in the form of a website.

Revenue from this ambitious program of ticket sales and hospitality, which UEFA estimate at a potential 500 million euros, is likely to far outstrip revenues from the 2012 competition in Ukraine and Poland, which was well-attended but mostly ticketed to Eastern Europeans with smaller disposable incomes.

Nevertheless, UEFA are not focusing on only the wealthiest spectators, and their ticketing procedures place a considerable emphasis on the idea of inclusivity. UEFA will be giving away 20,000 tickets to deprived children across France in the very admirable if somewhat-sickeningly-named 20,000 Smiles for the EURO programme. The guaranteed 25-euro tickets at 43 of the 51 games are also to be welcomed, though some other promises, such as the unspecified "number of tickets available for disabled fans at every match," are vaguely worded.

The ticket sales process, which opened for registration on May 12 this year and closes in July, will be "user-friendly and transparent" according to the Euro 2016 Steering Group President Jacques Lambert. UEFA further claim that the full digitalization of the ticketing system will "eradicate the risk of obtaining invalid or fraudulent tickets."

Finally, each host city will establish a large outdoor fan-zone, where those unable to get into the stadium itself will be able to watch the game on a giant LED screen. The fan-zones, now a regular feature of such tournaments, are democratic but monolithically corporate. If previous events are anything to go by, vendors of delicious local French food and wine will have to compete for the huge captive market in the fan-zones with tournament sponsors such as Carlsberg, Coca-Cola and McDonalds.

Meanwhile, here in Moscow, key stakeholders in the Russian government and the country's national footballing associations are watching the preparations with great interest. Unlike France, Russia is having to invest heavily in hospitality and transport infrastructure. Yet should some of the above innovations prove successful, Russia may be able to cut costs through digitalization and attract more tourists through effective marketing.

Russia will also monitor keenly the effect the legacy of the UEFA Euro 2016 will have on football in France. Russian clubs now suffer from underfunding. The hope is that new stadium infrastructure will either help leading clubs, such as Zenit in St.Petersburg, draw bigger crowds, or provide the catalyst that, together with more targeted financing, will be able to help dying clubs such as Volgograd's FC Rotor get back on their feet.

Whatever happens, there is little doubt that ensuring the success of the tournament and a sustainable legacy will be far more difficult for Russia in 2018 than it will be for France in 2016. The contrast between the two nations in terms of their infrastructural readiness for such major events is immense. As regards legacy, the French plan for increased match attendance is based far more realistically on that country's far greater level of personal wealth. Many Russian stadiums are already practically empty on match days, and without growth in personal income levels it is difficult to see how they can be filled.

While the French experience may prove useful in terms of readily transplantable organizational and operations innovations for the tournament itself, Russia will also need new ideas and serious finance to allow it to deliver a World Cup with a legacy for the country's football and tourism industries that will be truly worth the tournament's massive price tag.

Russia - France 2015
Russia - France 2015
Welcome to Russia-France business supplement, devoted to strengthening bilateral relations between Russia and France.
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