Pros and Cons of Multi-hosted EurosPlatini and UEFA are considering spreading matches across Europe, let’s assess the possibilities
by Mike Firpo | Wednesday, July 04, 2012
The confetti hadn’t even settled or the late-night celebratory pierogis and sangria finished in Eastern Europe on the latest and well-regarded Euro 2012 before UEFA President Michele Platini gave the media and public another bad idea to ponder and disturb their post-Euro bliss.
"The Euros in 2020 could be held all over Europe," said Platini. "We are just thinking about it. I have said 12 or 13 host cities, it could be 24 or 32."
If increasing a perfectly sized 16 nation tournament to 24 (from a UEFA body with 53 members) after one of its best advertisements for European soccer every 4 years and belligerently making a stance against Goal-line Technology (GLT) against the global tide seeking its inclusion into the game is not enough – now we get another seemingly bizarre idea from the second most powerful man in soccer.
And the scary thing is he won’t be second for too long. There is a very good chance Platini succeeds the ignominious Sepp Blatter era and becomes the next FIFA President. He will likely have opposition from Spanish FA President Angel Maria Villar and possibly a final foray at footballing kaiserdom by Franz Beckenbauer. But barring a scandal from now until the election Platini beats all comers in 2015. And with that likely win, France will tie England for most FIFA Presidents, at 3.
When he does that, look out world football fandom – Platini will inundate us with his interminable amounts of ways to “improve” and “preserve” the game. If Blatter became known as your crazy uncle who didn’t know when to retire, Platini looks set to become the jock turned pseudo-intellectual that wants to be overly paternal to his adult children that surpassed his thinking years earlier.
Platini hasn’t lost too many battles since morphing into the football bureaucrat role. He even recently outflanked FIFA to make several groundbreaking deals with European clubs (and with that all clubs worldwide), making FIFA blush and forcing them to do likewise after the book was written. That maneuver by Platini and UEFA was likely retribution towards Blatter and FIFA for jumping off their shared anti-technology bandwagon in order to save face on his reelection anti-corruption and transparency platform that is mired in self-made mud.
Platini recently got a pie in the face during the Euros as his extra officials who were tasked with monitoring the goal-line, made a hash of it in the Ukraine-England match, likely sealing the fate of the hosts and bringing GLT back to the forefront. You’d think that Platini would just give up, but no, since then he has repeated and raised his voice louder, wanting to set the record straight that he isn’t against GLT specifically but all “technology” in the game. The current head of European football and likely next FIFA President is an admitted and proudly pro-active technophobe. Great. And just when it looked like he would concede this one to Blatter and the global consensus … nope, he’s going down swinging before the big FIFA/IFAB vote on July 5th.
So it’s no stretch that given his tenacity, self-belief and disregard for popular sentiment, Platini’s new idea for a pan-European championship with 16 to 32 host cities instead of 1 or 2 nations, may just stick. He did afterall bring the Euros to the footballing backwater of Eastern Europe and it arguably went off better than the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Blatter’s pet project.
The vote for the Euro 2020 venues will be in December or January, in order to beat the IOC to the punch with their September 2013 pick for the 2020 Summer Olympics. The tricky part is Turkey wants both tourneys that summer, but that won’t happen and the only other bidders are the longshot bids of Georgia/Azerbaijan and the Gaelic trio of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Given the current European economic crisis and the fact that the 24-nation enlarged Euros of 2016 and beyond will be even more costly than in the past, additional bidders are not stepping up and several including wealthy Germany decided against throwing their hat into the hosting ring, and they already have all the infrastructure, stadiums, hotels, airports and money needed – that says much.
UEFA does not want to be backed into a corner however, having to pick from Door A: Ambiguous Anatolia, Door B: Baby Britannia or Door C: Caucasus Consternation. So Platini and company -- well mostly just Platini the rest nod along while reminiscing in their minds and wondering what they did with his old posters and Panini stickers -- stand a good chance of pushing thru this highly controversial change for the second most popular tournament on planet Earth.
"This matter will be discussed very seriously," Platini said. "We will have a great debate about 2020 and discuss the pros and cons." So with that, let’s analyze the positives and negatives of Prez Platini’s grand new plan:
- "It's an idea I feel really passionate about, it will be a lot easier from a financial perspective." Platini stated. "We wouldn't have to build stadiums or airports. That could be important in an economic crisis." During these times of European austerity there are few nations interested in spending billions like hosts Poland or Ukraine did on stadiums, hotels and road/airport infrastructure. Not having to build new stadiums from the ground up and tackling airport and road construction that are huge capital outlays is a big plus for a pan-European tournament.
- Details are slim as it seems it’s only in the theoretical phase, or Platini’s daydream phase if you will, but let’s assume UEFA goes for the max amount of cities (they did it with participants) with 32. That’s a lot of European cities, not even just the big ones or capitals either. That spreads a lot of wealth around. It also makes it MUCH easier for stadiums to be full. Especially if they let local teams host, like say England playing one of their matches in London. There is no doubt that a local Euro match would sell-out every single match. Each match would have a domestic magnitude bigger than an NFL SuperBowl for the hosting city and nation. For that one hypothetical England-Wembley match alone, that’s 90,000 fans. Do that for 51 matches across Europe and you break every tournament sporting record ever held. The World Cup if it remained in one/two host nations would never again be able to topple the Euro numbers unless it was played in the USA in only the biggest gridiron football stadia.
- With packed giant stadiums throughout Europe, the atmosphere in-stadium and broadcasted throughout the world will be electric for nearly every match. Even smaller matches with smaller competitors could be huge scintillating affairs if they are hosted by one of the participant teams.
- Though ticket prices will be higher, the opposite will happen for hotel prices because local fans will pack many of the stadiums, especially if their nation is involved. So fewer hotels would be needed since less fans would be tourists and the largest cities usually have more hotel capacity anyway. Lower hotel prices and more occupancy availability, benefits tournaments greatly. One of the failings for World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 was the high prices for hotels which kept many fans away (even if they had tickets) because they couldn’t then afford the jacked-up airfare (South Africa) or accommodations (Ukraine) when added together. That’s why UEFA stated they sold all of their tickets for Euro 2012, yet large swathes of seats were clearly unoccupied during the tournament.
- The tournament spirit would be spread throughout Europe, not just that one hosting nation for a month. If you’re in France when a tournament is hosted in a few nations to the right, it is still possible to avoid the Euros, hard, but possible. But by having matches spread around, the entire continent will be even more engrossed in the tournament. That’s a tantalizing prospect considering the European sentiment to its continental championship is borderline fanatical today.
- Every Euro (and World Cup) tournament UEFA leaves in its wake stadiums that were just way too big for some cities and local clubs. Those white elephants are a waste of money and don’t need to be done like that. Imagine building a stadium for 3 games and then not be able to utilize it fully because your local team cannot fill it afterwards. That’s ludicrous. There is a major perk in not only having to build these pricey and inappropriately scaled stadiums but even moreso by avoiding the further public hangover that the treasure they invested, was mostly wasted.
- Not having a single or dual host nation makes it hard to imagine where they’d centralize the media center that every Euro (and World Cup) needs. Usually it’s the most central or biggest hub. Now this is just an idea, but if UEFA goes thru with this, it is totally feasible that instead of picking one of the 12 to 32 cities to act as the tournament’s media center, that UEFA and FIFA build a permanent facility in Euro-central Switzerland where both are based and both can utilize the facility every two years for either the Euros of the World Cup.
- Speaking of every two years … the reason the Olympics, World Cup and Euros were held every four years is mostly historic, and well now antiquated. They have those long gaps between tournaments because of the gigantic logistics it took to be able to get everyone together. In the outset of the World Cup, national teams arrived by harrowing boat voyage. Even today with big tournaments, time is needed to build facilities, stadiums and infrastructure. With this continentally shared hosting idea, there is no reason to wait every four years. I’m not sure this is in Platini’s mind today but it is possible that down the road, the Euros could be played every 2 years (which would require the World Cup to do the same, and a very needed and logical shared qualifying). With this new format, it would not take 4 years to get these logistics and sales together as nothing has to be built, marketing is mostly not that necessary because of the level of passion in Europe and sales will be through the roof and will sell-out across the board, everywhere. 51 matches will be hard for hosts to sell-out of the expanded Euros. Most non-marquee matches struggle to sell-out, but with this format being a rarer spectacle/event for wider audiences, it will be easy.
- Poorer or smaller nations like Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia or Norway may never get the chance to host the Euros in its future 24-team format without strong (see expensive) co-hosting bids. With this idea however, their major cities could. All their biggest stadiums could serve as future venues and do admirably. This would spread the Euros around the continent to places it would realistically not go unless those nations found vast amounts of petroleum or gas under their soil.
- Let’s be clear, the English national team fans didn’t have low turn-outs at Euro 2012 because they feared racism or their support for the Three Lions is waning. Not at all. The main reason for their lower than norm numbers was due to high priced hotels. Hoteliers tend to jack up their pricing (especially for England hosted cities) during this time and there is not much governments, organizers or UEFA can do. This problem is magnified in small cities with little to no tourism industry and accompanying hotels. Now play that match in London at Wembley where most of the nation can commute and reduce reliance on affordable and prevalent hotel accommodations, and you make demand sky-rocket.
- With locally packed pan-European stadiums, demand will be high. That is of course a pro above, but the negative effect would be UEFA could easily and justifiably raise ticket prices. Making it harder for average fans to attend.
- Euro 2012 had vast distances between the two nations, but most of the time this is not the case, Europe being as dense as it is. But a switch to matches all over Europe would see increased distances as the playing board would be a continent not a country or two. And though some flights might be easier as there are many more options for fans than this year, especially in Ukraine, they still are facing longer flights and/or longer train rides to other venues, should they want to travel and see other matches.
- Once those fans start travelling around the continent to catch matches for de-centralized Euros, it will basically erode the historically beloved nature of the Euros (and World Cup and Olympics for that matter) that sees host nations putting their best bits of local and national flavor into the theme, backdrop and nostalgia of the event. When everyone that visited (and TV viewers too to a lesser extent) Euro 2012 reminisces about their time watching the matches, part of those memories, fun times and learning while travelling includes the Polish and/or Ukrainian component. Every different nation stamps itself into the identity of that tournament, navigating their culture becomes a unique adventure for each Euro Championship. With a nebulous tournament spread across all of Europe, every fan will have a totally customized memory depending on the cities they went to. I suppose that is part of the new vision of a united and delineated Europe, but it seems possible it might erode the distinct character of European national identity that the fans of the continent, and now world, have grown so passionate for. With no epicenter to the tournament, the cultural, national and custom elements will be removed. That might serve to hi-light the football more, but then again part of the allure of these big sporting tournaments is learning about and experiencing the local host country when they are flaunting their best feathers on the world stage and with no epicenter and no national backdrops – that local element will be lost in favor of yet another vision of pan-Europa.
- Historically the Euros and World Cups are great mechanisms to not only improve the footballing fandom in a nation for today and tomorrow (they almost always grow the sport for hosts – see France and Mexico) but they serve as once-in-a-generation catalysts for the constructions of stadiums. Yes, having a pan-Euros is great for saving on reconstruction or construction costs, thus not forcing local/national governments to spend billions on something that often is not utilized fully (Olympics are the worst at this by far), however the obvious drawback with that is the revolution of national stadiums that happens like we saw this year in Poland/Ukraine, Austria/Switzerland in 2008 and 2004 in Portugal … never happens. Well, certainly not all at once, boosting the game and atmosphere of the hosts’ domestic game. That is a big loss for legacy potential. Yes, more cities across Europe will be hosts and games will be more accessible to local fans in a live manner, but their stadiums and local clubs will not benefit from improved stadium refurbishment or construction. That money for development would be less prevalent and to a large extent withdrawn from the game, not to be seen for generations as the impetus to move governments into spending on their local clubs’ home stadiums would be absent. We all know most modern European clubs spend most of their revenue on player transfers and salaries nowadays, and too few on their actual infrastructure, many of which they do not own. Not having that capital injection from nationally hosted Euros will be a loss of legacy and investment in the game.
- The counter argument to the spreading of matches throughout the continent and bringing the tournament to cities around Europe is that this is already done, it’s called Qualifying! They wouldn’t be wrong either. Dublin, Bucharest, Glasgow, Sofia might have a hard time becoming hosts in the current format, but they still get to host their national team, several times usually, in their national stadiums in the qualification process.
This is a tough one. On one hand there is the logic that says “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, especially after a very successfully completed tournament. But on the other hand there are great positives to evolving the Euros and possibly taking it to even higher levels.
Thus it's not easy and it will be important to see what comes out of the debates from UEFA, assuming this isn’t just a Platini dictate that is effectively rubber-stamped in January.
If I had to go one way or another, and given the coming tinkering and over-expansion from the perfect 16 to the gaudy 24 team tourney, I’d say we might as well mitigate the damage of that and try this revolutionary pan-European model. There will only be a few nations capable of hosting future super-sized Euros, so you might as well bring about multi-national hosting to compensate for that. We’d be giving up some history and tinkering with one of the best sporting events ever, but Platini was doing that anyway, so spreading the games around will just help soften that contentious and potentially harmful move.
Who knows, it might even prove to be a better format one day and the World Cup and Olympics might be forced to follow suit as hosting these tournaments will eventually be tasked only to the wealthiest nations. And as we’ve seen in bad financial times, it’s irresponsible for even the First World to waste money. Maybe spreading the burden and lowering the costs across an ever-shrinking globe during growing regionalization is the evolution of the continental and international sports tournament. Platini may make us eat our words. For the sake of our beloved Euros, hopefully he does.