Postcard from the French sports industry: Euro 2016, 2024 and the need to innovate

Nielsen Sports Football - Soccer

With club seasons across Europe drawing to a close, the final countdown to the summer’s showpiece national football team event, UEFA Euro 2016, is underway. France is this year’s host country, responsible for organising a competition that has expanded from 16 teams to 24 in the four years since Poland and Ukraine combined to stage Euro 2012.

Staging any major sporting event is a logistical feat and the medium and long-term impacts of doing so are at the forefront of minds within both the organising team and France’s wider sports industry. “Euro 2016 is obviously a key moment for us, locally,” says Pierre-Emmanuel Davin, who heads up Repucom’s French office in Paris. “The entire world – and world of football – will be looking at us in terms of hosting an event and making it successful. There is a lot of excitement around this.”

About one in two people in France is a fan of football according to recent Repucom research. Of those fans, Repucom has seen a particular expectation for Euro 2016, which begins when the hosts play Romania in Paris on Friday 10th June.

“It’s a positive environment for our industry when it comes to sponsorship and brands,” Davin adds. “Those with some involvement in the activity on the field are looking forward to this event to leverage their rights and partnerships, and to engage with fans – that’s true for French team partners, for sure, but also true for the UEFA Euro 2016 partners, or their local French subsidiary. On top of that it is true for anyone active in sport and football: it’s the time of year to advertise, to talk to your fans and to try and gain awareness and image.”

Arguably the biggest challenge for the French sports market is how to maximise the tournament’s success in the longer-term. Stadiums across the country have been refurbished or built in preparation, with several clubs poised to benefit from greater match day revenues long after the European champions have been crowned in July. Davin points to the legacy of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, staged in Germany, as an example of a model France should look to follow. “Euro 2016 should not be the finish line for French football,” he says. “It’s more a question of how we will take advantage of the new stadia and facilities to add to the fan experience, to have more people in the stadiums and engaging with brands. Hopefully it will be a new era. For the host cities of the tournament, there will be an economic impact and it will help increase their awareness globally. And there is also an obvious security challenge around all this, given what is happening in the world today, so this is obviously a special focus of the organising committee and the government to make sure the tournament is as safe as possible.”

A summer of sport – and a decade of big events

Pierre-Emmanuel Davin | Repucom

Pierre-Emmanuel Davin, Managing Director Repucom France

UEFA Euro 2016 begins a cycle of major international events on French shores over the next few years and comes as the city of Paris ramps up its efforts to host the 2024 Olympic Games – the city faces stiff competition from Los Angeles, Rome and Budapest but has made an energetic start to a bidding process which will conclude in September 2017. Before then, to name but a few, France will play host to the 2017 Men’s Handball World Championship and ice hockey’s IIHF World Championships (the latter shared between Paris and the German city of Cologne). France will also host the FIFA Women’s World Cup across eight of its cities in 2019.

These ‘one-offs’ add to a French sporting calendar already stacked with historic annual events: the French Open begins later this month at Roland-Garros, followed shortly after by the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Tour de France. At the end of this year, meanwhile, the quadrennial Vendée Globe – a solo, non-stop sailing race around the world – will be staged for the eighth time.

“The fact that France is about to host numerous global events as never before is important,” Davin says. “Within the next four to eight years we will host World Championships, European Championships – it’s an extraordinary list – and hopefully that will be followed by the Olympics in 2024. That is something that can and will create opportunities for our sponsorship industry.

“More generally, the French sports industry is in a very exciting period,” he adds. “There is room for development and innovation, so there are lots of opportunities to capture but France has some great assets within the sports landscape, fantastic properties and French-based events with global reach, strong awareness and good image that our local market can leverage and benefit from.”

Euro 2016, Davin insists, can play an important role – and the home team’s performance could be just as vital as the successful organisation of the tournament. “In terms of the impact on our sports industry or even the economy, it can be nothing but positive to have the national team back on track,” he suggests. “On top of football and what it would mean for football, it would also be a perfect advertising campaign for us to host the Olympics in 2024.”

Looking ahead: innovating in an established market

Asked to point to a couple of areas of the industry ripe for growth in France, Davin turns immediately to eSports. “It’s getting bigger and bigger, audiences are growing and we are currently at a period of time where the ecosystem is trying to organise itself. It’s something that is getting more structure and we see great expectations for growth within the younger target groups. It’s an interesting opportunity for brands, commercially, to partner with and see how they can engage.

“I would say mass participation events are also interesting,” he continues. “People are really enthusiastic about them – marathons, events like the Colour Run where there is also a social side. We expect this to keep growing.”

The wider challenge for many sports rights-holders and the brands that sponsor them is how best to embrace technology and innovate without impacting on the history, heritage and prestige of established competitions and events. And to do so in a rapidly changing media environment: in France, Qatar’s beIN Sports has established itself as a major player in recent years alongside Canal+ in the subscription TV space, a move which has limited coverage of some sports on free-to-air television. The market is highly competitive, underlined by telecommunications firm SFR’s recent decision to launch five sports TV channels and continuing speculation about potential rights acquisitions by the likes of Google, Amazon and platforms like Twitter.

Davin, meanwhile, says events like Roland-Garros, the Tour de France and Le Mans 24 Hours are “very well-placed” to innovate successfully “because they have strong products, fan bases, an understanding of what’s going on”. He adds:

“They are smart, successful guys with the global and not just local view. They are best-placed to understand how innovation would change and is changing media consumption and is changing their environment. The Tour de France, for example, is more data-driven; they are trying to enhance the TV viewers’ experience with statistics, data and the way the event is filmed. Le Mans, similarly, has been around forever and is all about innovation – the sport is technology and how it is delivered to the public. Innovation, technology, connectivity, social media engagement, new media content offered to the fan is something that is key nowadays and I’m confident those guys are very well-placed to do so.”

Turning back to football, Davin also highlights the work of the country’s leading club team Paris Saint-Germain – on-field champions in Ligue 1 by a substantial margin and innovating effectively off it. “What they have done in terms of growing their fan base, developing a successful social media strategy, building the image of the club is very impressive,” Davin says. “They truly are now a high-level, world-class property.”

learn more about Repucom’s European Football Jersey Report 2015/16