Delayed by 12 months and spread across 11 host cities – Amsterdam, Baku, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Glasgow, Munich, London, Rome, Seville and Saint Petersburg – UEFA Euro 2020 will finally take place between 11 June and 11 July.
And just as head coaches across the continent are nursing selection headaches and adding finishing touches to their pre-tournament preparations before Italy and Turkey raise the curtain in Rome, pub and bar operators are likewise finalising formations before proceedings get underway.
"I think more than anything else, big football tournaments are always a really exciting event to look forward to in the on-trade, but probably this year it's got an even higher level of importance because it's got this opportunity to allow consumers to reconnect with the on-trade and get people back to visiting pubs,” Heineken UK’s on-trade category and commercial strategy director, John Gemmell explains.
UEFA has confirmed that there will be a minimum capacity of 25% for the first three group matches and round of 16 match at Wembley, while Glasgow’s Hampden Park will host between 25% and 33% of stadium capacity for its trio of group games and solitary round of 16 tie.
Given the potential scarcity of tickets and the on-trade’s recent track record of major tournament success – just search fan reactions to any England goal during the 2018 World Cup on YouTube and watch the pints fly – pubs will inevitably become a key player in fans getting their tournament fix.
"Even in a ‘normal’ football tournament evidence will tell us that you get 12 to 15 million people want to go out and watch football,” Gemmell explains. “So there's an enormous opportunity, but consumer confidence is going to be really quite critical given the fragile place that we are with restarting.”
"I think that the way we've reopened in the last few weeks suggests that there's a really strong, latent, demand out there for the on-trade which is great,” he adds. "I think the demand is going to be really, really strong and even more so once to get to some of the key games.”
Strong home nations showing ‘massive’
Any reference to “key games” at this summer’s tournament will inevitably be followed by mention of England v Scotland at Wembley on 18 June, a “really special event” according to Gemmell.
The rivalry, one of the oldest in world football, hasn’t graced a major tournament since Paul Gascoigne scored that goal past then Rangers teammate Andy Goram at Wembley during Euro 96.
"The most interesting thing about all of this for the UK is that there are three home nations – in terms of Scotland, Wales and England – and that's the first time in tournament history that the whole of the British mainland will get the benefit of that."
And while Gemmell admits he doesn’t have lofty expectations of his native Scotland taking Euro 2020 by storm on their summer tournament return for the first time since the 1998 World Cup in France – a competition he attended as a fan – he acknowledges that home nations reaching the latter stages could allow pubs to cash in on that winning feeling.
"It's massive, and it builds,” he says. “When we saw England reach the semi-final in the last major tournament, each match got bigger and bigger and bigger. Not only do fans visit the pub, they stay longer.
"I don't have high expectations for Scotland – we're pleased to be at the party,” he adds. “I genuinely can't look past the bigger teams winning it. I believe England have a really good chance, if I'm honest, but beyond that Germany, France, Spain.
"I think England will be in the top four and Scotland and Wales will probably be coming home a little bit earlier.”
Fans ‘starved’ of the on-trade
Said World Cup “party” years ago saw £4.7bn worth of drinks – the equivalent of 546m pints – sold during an eight-week period in UK’s pubs making major tournament football a definite “draught beer occasion” according to Gemmell.
CGA data also reveals that lager is the most popular choice for pub going sport fans with 87% of UEFA Euro 2020 fans deeming a venue’s lager range important and 74% asking for a specific brand.
What’s more, sports consumers are also willing to spend 7% more per pint or bottle of lager than the average consumer.
"Consumers have been starved of the on-trade for the last year,” Gemmell says. “There's only so much excitement a four pack from Tesco can give you, so the fundamental is going to be unbeatable atmosphere with a draught offering making the pub the best place to watch Euro 2020 this summer.
"The other thing that will come into play during the tournament is premiumisation,” he adds.
"Sports fans are typically younger and are willing to spend seven to ten percent more per pint, so being able to trade up is really important.”
Yet while draught beer is undeniably the key player in any pub’s major tournament line-up, Gemmell adds that a supporting cast of summer serves and low and no pours are more than capable of assisting an operator’s bottom line.
"I think that given the importance of outdoor space, and the increased investment in outdoor space, screens and seating, we would expect cider to receive a benefit,” he says.
“Then of course the other way is that there are consumers there who are actually wanting to moderate their alcohol intake.”
Though £2m won’t get you much at the top end of professional football anymore – Diego Maradona’s then record move to Barcelona broke the £2m barrier for the first time in 1982 with the beautiful game barely looking back since – seven figures still go a long way in in the pub sector.
As such, ahead of UEFA Euro 2020 this summer, Heineken invested £2m directly in its pubs and launched the ‘Check in Challenge’ on MatchPint – which encourages fans to visit their local in the run up to Euro 2020 for the chance to win over 100 pairs of match tickets.
What’s more, the firm behind Star Pubs & Bars is also supporting stockists with more than £200k investment in pub gardens to maximise capacity and increase viewing areas given Covid restrictions will likely remain a tournament fixture regardless of the Government’s decision on pandemic restrictions from 21 June.
"Obviously our plans have been delayed a year, but we've pledged a lot of support,” Gemmell tells The MA. “This includes 6,000 UEFA Euro 2020 kits that are being made available to our customers, including staff T-shirts, scarves, bunting and outdoor banners.
“We've also invested quite a lot of time and effort to give customers through our online channel information about how to plan effectively.”
As far as pre-tournament tactics go, Gemmell explains that properly kitted pubs – featuring everything from tournament memorabilia to order and pay apps – whose staff tackle Covid rules and line up tailored offers will be onto a winner this summer.
According to recent research cited by Heineken, 77% of consumers don’t want to queue at the bar while enjoying sport while more than half (51%) want food before the game starts and 37% after the match finishes.
"The other big difference this year, that we'll see continuing, is the need for people to be able to order not necessarily at the bar,” he says. “Again, to be able to provide table service and use of pay apps to make the ordering experience easier.
"The key for us is dress your pub, plan to win, make sure that you've got the right rules of service so it's safe and comfortable for customers and employees,” Gemmell continues. “And just make sure that you offer the right kind of food and drink deals that help to extend the trading period either before the major games, or in fact afterwards."
A ‘perfect storm’
With Kantar data revealing that pub going sport fans stay 25 minutes longer and spend 30% more, it’s no surprise to hear that almost nine-out-of-ten (89%) operators plan to show games from this summer’s Euro 2020 – with half of those claiming they will show as many games as they can, according to Matchpint data.
As such, 41% of pub operators believe that UEFA Euro 2020 will be the on-trade’s top scorer this summer, with Gemmell telling The MA that he hopes trading and footfall will match levels seen during the tournament’s 2016 edition.
"I think the thing we saw with the 2018 World Cup that can make an enormous difference is not just the performance of the home nations, but if we can combine that with a set of good weather – then in many ways you get a 'perfect storm',” he says.