Coronavirus: European Soccer Championships Pushed Back to 2021

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin
JOHN THYS_AFP via Getty Images

UEFA cited concerns of the spread of COVID-19 in its decision to delay the pan-continental tournament for a year.

Europe's biggest sporting event of 2020, the European Soccer Championships, has been postponed due to the coronavirus, meaning Euro 2020 will become Euro 2021.

The tournament, due to have been held this year from June 12 to July 12, will now be played from June 11 to July 11 of next year, UEFA members, Europe's soccer governing body UEFA confirmed Tuesday.

UEFA held a video conference Tuesday with its members, all 55 of Europe's professional soccer associations, as well as with the European Club Association, the European Leagues and the international players’ union FIFPro, to discuss the postponement of the European Championships by a year to the summer of 2021 amid concerns about the growing spread of the virus and the illness it causes, COVID-19.

The move, while expected, represents a major shake-up for international soccer and will have a huge impact on networks that have paid millions for the rights to show the tournament.

U.K. TV giant ITV, which in Britain is splitting the TV rights to the tournament with the BBC, said its costs will be reduced this year by the cancellation. "The direct impact will be to reduce ITV's schedule costs in 2020 by £40 million to £50 million ($48 million-$60 million), including the cost of replacement programming," the company said. While it will mean it won't get any audience or advertising boost from the soccer event this year, the firm highlighted: "There will be no loss of sponsorship revenue as the tournament is pre-sponsored. We look forward to broadcasting the Euros and providing a significant marketing opportunity for advertisers in 2021, a year which does not have any other large sports tournament."

ITV didn't detail the potential revenue impact of the postponement of the soccer tournament, but said it "continues to closely monitor the implications of the coronavirus and will update the market further as appropriate." Added the company: "Currently ITV's guidance for March and April advertising revenue has not changed. As we stated at the full year results, ITV has good access to liquidity. We have £830m of undrawn facilities and no bond repayments until September 2022."

The 2020 European Championship was an ambitious undertaking from the start. Instead of holding the tournament in a single country, or sharing it between two neighboring nations, as has been the case in the past, this year's event was planned to be held across 12 European nations, from Turkey to Russia to Germany to Ireland. But with COVID-19 still spreading unchecked across Europe and most countries introducing border controls and strict measures to limit public events, those plans looked untenable.

UEFA said it would reschedule the tournament for 2021, a move that will have a knock-on effect on national leagues and other international sporting events. Most crucially, the new dates move the European Championships closer to the 2022 soccer world cup, in which many of the same national teams will be competing.

The 2022 World Cup is set to take place in Qatar from Nov. 21 to Dec. 18, 2022. UEFA is also facing a congested calendar of its own events, with the women’s European Championship due to take place next summer in England from July 11 to Aug. 1. There is a possibility that the women’s tournament could also be postponed for a year to accommodate any changes.

Then there is the question of cost. Moving Euro 2020 will reportedly cost UEFA some $330 million (300 million euros), money it might try now to recoup from its member organizations, national professional soccer leagues across Europe. But those leagues are already hard hit by national bans on public events that has led to the suspension of professional sports across the continent. England's Premier League, Germany's Bundesliga, Italy's top flight Serie A, Spain's La Liga, France's Ligue 1, the Dutch Eredivisie and Portugal's Primeira Liga have all postponed action until April at the earliest in a bid to stem the spread of the COVID-19. UEFA on March 13 also postponed Champions League matches.

UEFA reportedly considered several options concerning the European tournament, including scrapping some of the national venues to hold matches in areas less hard-hit by COVID-19.

The opening match of Euro 2020 — between Italy and Turkey on June 12 — was planned for Rome, a COVID-19 hotspot. Italy has seen more than 2,100 deaths due to the illness and the country is currently in lockdown with all public events banned.

As coronavirus fears have mounted, national leagues pushed to suspend or cancel the tournament. Both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovakia have requested that qualification playoff matches scheduled for March 26, against Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, respectively, be postponed.

Broadcasters who secured rights to the 2020 tournament now have a major hole to fill in their schedules. In the U.S., ABC and ESPN have English-language rights to the tournament, with Univision holding Spanish-language rights. Across Europe, the tournament is a major ratings draw and channels including the BBC and ITV in the U.K., France's TF1 and M6, and ARD and ZDF in Germany were counting on the event to bring in tens of millions of viewers.

Various national restrictions on large gatherings would have made the European Championships impossible to hold in their current form. Many European countries, including soccer giants France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as Ireland and Scotland, have banned outdoor gatherings of the size of Euro 2020 matches.

Georg Szalai in London contributed to this report.