What do the Euros and game theory have in common? On the surface very little – and you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about this just a few days after our footballing pain continued on and off the field. Look closer, though, and Sunday’s match is a classic definition of a zero-sum game. To have a winner you must have a loser, and the spoils went to Italy – simple.
Big tournaments, however, are far richer than a single game or the behaviour of a small group of fans. They are cultural moments that play out across media, politics and society, creating a multitude of winners and losers. They are by definition a non-zero-sum game.
So rather than focus on Sunday, here’s my take on who has won and lost from the Euro’s and a promise that this is the last we’ll talk about maths.
The England team. Yes, we have lost on penalties again and football has been shown as a platform for the worst of our nation, but the way the team carried itself in defeat is a triumph. Gareth Southgate and the players have shown strong values, a great team ethic and a better class of role model for the younger generation, which is arguably a far bigger victory than being crowned European Champions. I still have ‘something in my eye’ seeing Mason Mount hand his semi-final-winning shirt to young fan Belle; this must be the lasting image of this team. They have united the nation (albeit for a short period of time) and given bucketloads of joy and beer – both of which we have a great thirst for. So, while we drown ourselves in shame, let’s also remember what has been achieved.
Sporting narratives. This is why we love sport – the unexpected narratives that have to be witnessed to be believed. All great sporting movies are centred on overcoming adversity and the story of the Denmark team was no different. Tragedy struck in the first match when Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch and was taken to hospital and ruled out of the tournament. The team then lost its first two matches, but like Rocky rising from the canvas, dusted itself off to get within minutes of the final and became everyone’s second team in the process.
Brands. TikTok proved that sponsorship is alive and kicking for the next generation of brands. Its ability to carry the Euros to new audiences and give a unique angle on the tournament is invaluable for football. It also shows that the apocalyptic rhetoric about traditional media being dead is premature as it plastered itself all over TV and OOH. The marketing mix has evolved for brands, but let’s be clear: traditional channels are not dead, no matter what anyone tells you. Other campaigns worthy of a mention are the Snickers ‘Bothlands’ campaign, BT’s brave Hope United campaign, the simple brilliance of Bud Light’s England work (including Box Head), and the Specsavers ‘It’s coming home’ reactive OOH.
Pundits. The battle of the pundits has been almost as fierce as the action on the field. I’m not going to get into the BBC vs ITV debate but would like to focus on the pundits. For me, the winners have come from unexpected places, with Micah Richards and Emma Hayes as new stars. Richards brings barrel-loads of humour and joy to the job, while Hayes brings enough meticulous preparation and tactical acumen to the role to have Gary Neville looking over his shoulder. Expect to see more of these two in the near future. A special mention should go to the nation's unofficial pundit, Rob Beckett. If you haven’t been following his Instagram Stories, you’ve been missing out.
Hate. Hate will never win. The England players used their platform to take the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and social equality, an unarguable message, and they deserve great credit for doing so. To see their actions get conflated with political ideologies of Marxism and nationalism has undermined the message and, rather than discussing the problem, we’re discussing the appropriateness of taking the knee thanks to the likes of some small-minded, platform-hogging politicians. It has shown the deep divide that existed before the Euros and consequently erupted only moments after Saka missed his penalty. But, when Marcus Rashford’s mural was defaced in Manchester with racist graffiti, within hours the local community had smothered it with messages of love and respect. We can never let hate win.
National Anthems. There is just no need to boo them. Ever.
UEFA. While the tournament on the field has been a success, UEFA itself has had a difficult time off it. Its handling of the Pride issue has been widely criticised and seen sponsors use their own marketing to rebel against the UEFA party line. It also faced Ronaldo’s ‘Cokegate’, which has seen athletes rejecting certain brand associations. I think this could be only the start of athletes questioning the brands that sponsor major tournaments and will signal a broader rise in athlete activism.
Multi-venue format. It’s been great for England but has felt like the tournament lacked an identity and clearly favoured certain teams. It feels more than a coincidence that all four semi-finalists played all their group games in their home nation. I dare say most fans are looking forward to normal service being resumed in Germany in 2024, with a single host nation creating a European carnival atmosphere.
Germany. What is German for 'zero-sum game'?
Adam Raincock is co-founder of sports and entertainment marketing agency The Space Between