Despite the pandemic, Europe’s main international football competition is kicking off with a unique hosting setup. The football ought to be the same as always, but the economic bottom line will be very different.
When Michel Platini promoted his brainchild back in 2012 that Euro 2020 should be held in multiple European cities rather than in one host country, the word he used to describe his idea was "zany."
Nine years on, Platini is long gone as UEFA president, a casualty of the corruption crisis involving FIFA and Sepp Blatter. Pandemic-battered 2020 is gone, without the Euros having adorned it. But remarkably, despite everything, the zany idea endures.
This strangest of European Championships kicks off Friday evening in Rome with a match between Italy and Turkey. Matches in Baku, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg follow on Saturday, with Bucharest, Amsterdam and London playing hosts on Sunday. Budapest, Seville, Munich and Glasgow are the other host cities.
Apart from the surreal novelty of a major tournament without a central host, there is still the pandemic to contend with. In normal times, big-ticket events like this mean party time for football fans all across Europe.
The novel hosting format of Euro 2020 long predates the pandemic and was the brainchild of former UEFA President Michel Platini
Stadiums at reduced capacity, test requirements for spectators to go to matches, fan zones or bars, and strict quarantine rules in many of the host nations is the new reality.
With all that in mind, it's not just fans wishing things were perhaps a little different. Those in the hospitality and tourism sectors across the continent will also likely be wondering what might have been over the next few weeks.
Hosting dividend divided
Even without the pandemic, the economic impact of Euro 2020 was always going to be different to a normal European Championship or World Cup due to the novel hosting setup.
Euro 2016, held in France, boosted the country's economy by around €1.2 billion ($1.48 billion), according to a study by the Limoges-based Centre for Sports Law and Economy (CDES) and the KENEO agency.
More than 600,000 visitors stayed in France for an average of eight days each with a per-person spending average of €154 every day. Coupled with the fact that France needed little capital investment to prepare for the tournament (spending around €200 million on infrastructure upgrades), hosting was a decision that made economic sense.
A tournament spread out over 11 cities in different countries was always going to have a significantly diluted economic impact for the individual locations.
However, on the investment side, it meant host nations and cities would not have to spend anything like the fortunes needed if they were hosting the entire tournament. Indeed, when Platini presented his idea for Euro 2020 nine years ago, part of his logic was how expensive Euro 2012 had been for Poland and Ukraine.
Even accounting for the dynamics of the format, the tournament would still have been a far greater moneymaker for host cities if it weren't for the pandemic.
The Irish capital, Dublin, had been in line to host four games at Euro 2020 but in April this year it was stripped of its hosting rights by UEFA due to Ireland's especially stringent pandemic regulations.
Long before that, a 2019 study by the consultancy EY-DKM on behalf of Dublin City Council found that the presence of around 90,000 tourists in the city for the duration of the tournament would boost the city's economy to the tune of €106 million.
Other host cities could have expected similar boosts, especially London, which will host both semifinals and the final.
Rome hosts the opening game, but the city will look very different to how it would for a 'normal' tournament opener in terms of crowds
That is all obviously different now. Most games in the tournament will probably be played in stadiums hosting less than 50% capacity. A tiny fraction of the fans that would have traveled across Europe for a pandemic-free Euros will travel over the coming weeks. Quarantine rules remain strict in many host cities, especially in the UK, where Glasgow hosts games alongside London.
For those few fans who do travel for games, fan zones, bars, hotels and city centers will still be subject to the kind of rules that significantly curtail the economic activity of tourists. That said, the tournament begins at a time of a general loosening of rules as virus cases decline — providing a little succor for those in the travel and hospitality sectors.
Still a good month for UEFA
Economically speaking, Euro 2020 is unrecognizable to its counterparts of recent years. While Euro 2016 provided an obvious boon to the French economy, Euro 2012 was also important in the development of the Polish and Ukrainian economies, for different reasons.
The two countries spent around €31 billion in advance of that tournament, with the vast majority going toward roads, airports, railways and other infrastructure. While in the years after the tournament, Ukraine was beset by the Donbass war, Poland's infrastructural investment continues to reap longer-term benefits for the country.
One group that is very likely to benefit economically from Euro 2020 is UEFA, the administrative body of football in Europe. Through its lucrative sale of broadcast and commercial rights for the competition, the European Championships has become a serious profit generator in recent years.
UEFA made a net profit of €847 million on EURO 2016, a €500 million increase on Euro 2012. Revenue growth from the competition has grown dramatically over the years. For example, Euro 1992 took in just €40.9 million in revenues.
The pandemic is likely to have an impact on this year's figures and UEFA's financial report next year will ultimately tell the full picture. But the organizing body's revenues will still be insulated in a way that the bars, hotels and restaurants of the host cities can only dream of.