On Tuesday the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Football Association unveil details of what both claim to be the UK's largest single cultural event. It is a national programme of activities including music, comedy, food and drink, all taking place in pubs, clubs, museums, art galleries and libraries in each city where matches are played, co-funded by Euro 96's 11 largest sponsors.
"The initiative is a way of attracting more money to those cities involved at a time when all face severe funding cuts," explains Ian McNichol, head of leisure and tourism at the AMA, the body representing Britain's 68 largest city authorities. The scale of Euro 96 is undisputed: 250,000 foreign visitors are expected with pounds 125m to spend. The total figure, including domestic supporters, will more than double this.
But the cultural festival serves another purpose. Mr McNichol adds: "It also overcomes the potential negative effects of those who are turned off by football. By getting the sponsors' grassroots recognition away from the football ground it broadens their appeal through association with the arts, music and food."
Maximising the return on investment is a key concern for Euro 96's 11 main event sponsors (Canon, Carlsberg, Coca-Cola, Fuji, JVC, Mastercard, McDonald's, Philips, Snickers, Vauxhall and Umbro), which have each paid pounds 3.5m to be associated with the event. All must stand out amid a plethora of Euro 96 related marketing activity ranging from smaller "official sponsors", such as official product and service suppliers, local team sponsors and unofficial football-themed promotions.
That is why as well as paying the sponsorship fee, the "big 11" will spend more than pounds 100m in related marketing to support the event, industry sources predict. Mastercard, for example, has developed a football and music-based strategy, ranging from an exclusive competition with the Daily Express for the Barclaycard Mastercard Soccer Masterclass to a concert in Hyde Park for the Prince's Trust featuring Eric Clapton. Vauxhall has extended its involvement from event sponsorship to include sponsorship of ITV's Euro 96 coverage. It has brought out special edition Premiere Astras and Corsas and is running a joint promotion with McDonald's.
The sponsors' efforts are being supported by ISL, the Lucerne-based marketing consultancy appointed to handle sponsorship and marketing for Euro 96 on behalf of UEFA, the European football body. ISL has taken the unprecedented step of commissioning Collett Dickenson Pearce, an advertising agency, to create a pounds 2.5m generic cinema and poster campaign for Euro 96. There is a perception that many fans see sponsors as corporate types aloof from the real action on the field. ISL hopes to bridge this gap and generate empathy by focusing on a shared passion, a spokeswoman said. The campaign, now running, links fans to the sponsors' products in a "feel good" advertisement.
ISL is also running an extensive programme of research to help sponsors structure and monitor the effectiveness of their activities. Sponsorship Research International has assessed the public attitudes to football sponsorship in France, Germany Russia and Britain. Findings published this week will show that football is the favourite sport among Europeans, with 69 per cent of of men and 39 per cent of of women saying they are likely to watch Euro 96 on television.
Asked what they thought of Euro 96 sponsors, respondents said they were favourably disposed and 20 per cent said association with Euro 96 raised their opinion of the sponsor.
Penny Mackie, the executive research manager of SRI, described the findings as significant. She said: "It illustrates the potential power of football sponsorship." ISL hopes post-tournament research will show increased consumption of, and loyalty to, sponsors' brands. However, as every fan knows, football is a funny business. A game of two halves.