As with any major international sporting event, the Big Business aspect of Euro 2008 is impossible to ignore. Setting foot in one of the designated “fan zones” seriously limits your beverage options. Looking for beer or soft drinks? Hopefully you enjoy Carlsberg beer and Coca-Cola products. Any other comparable products will not be found within the tightly controlled fan zone walls. In fact, it seems the security at the gates of the fan zones are more concerned with searching persons and their bags for outside beverages than they are interested in preventing weapons get through the gates. Seeing this causes one to question the very purpose of the so-called security.
The local food proprietors who wish to serve fans within these walls are therefore forced to oblige with UEFAs preferred choice of beverages. These overbearing corporate restrictions can make for interesting dining combinations. Any ethnic restaurant is unable to offer customers a traditional brew to match the fare – rather, a fan can only pair the available food options with the most mass produced Danish lager on the market, Carlsberg. As a beer drinker, it is easy to cringe at the lack of options but the Austrians in particular took this as a collective slap in the face to their country’s rich beer heritage.
All of these restrictions and endless corporate logos covering every possible surface points to the most obvious and commanding denominator: money. UEFA is paid loads of money from top corporate sponsors to offer certain products and display exclusive advertisements within all stadia and official fan zones. “Marketing Zone” would be a more appropriate title, as UEFA pushes it’s own Euro 2008 product and accompanying corporate sponsored trimmings down the throat of any fan who wishes to officially participate in the marketing machine this tournament has become.
The all-encompassing corporate branding and marketing surely does not appear out of the ordinary to anyone living in today’s modern society. But the shadow of Big Football Business causes one to question the authenticity of a sport that is known the world over as “The Beautiful Game”. At what point can the devoted, or even casual, observer turn off the undeniable corporate presence and focus on the essence of the artistry displayed on the pitch? Or has the corporate influence already so completely dominated this sporting landscape that a willfully ignorant consumer mindstate is needed to partake in any type of modern professional football activity?
Based on the graffiti and the occasional anti-ÚEFA sentiment prevalent in every host city I visited (all 4 Swiss cities, plus Vienna), some locals undoubtedly did not appreciate this Big Football Business machine steamrolling in to their city. Sure, these cities and their residents have the opportunity to witness first hand the amazing cultural and sporting experience that comes along with being a host city. But the responsibility also allows their city squares and parks to be taken over as corporate sponsored marketing zones, not to mention trash covering every street in and around these zones, drunken football fans doing what drunken football fans do, and a chance to foot the bill of the added police and municipal presence needed to control and clean up after such a mass comes through town.
It was refreshing to see that amidst this mania fueled by UEFA imposed beer restrictions, a certain Austrian beer company seized the opportunity to play a clever counter-marketing move of their own. Ottakringer, which was founded in 1837 and is the last large brewery remaining in Vienna, changed the design of their popular Helles beer and labeled itself as the “Unofficial Fan Beer”. This positioning can be seen in their current advertisements and Ottakringer even went as far as making scarves donning the particular slogan, “Inoffizielles Fanbier”.
A Viennese man passionately insisted that his friend was not allowed in to the official fan zone because he was sporting the aforementioned Ottakringer scarf (by wilson santiago). Whether the story can be validated or exists simply as an anti-UEFA urban myth, one thing is for certain: with the hyper strict marketing machine driving the Big Business Football world we live in, this type of scenario is unfortunately not outside the realm of mere imagination.