This summer’s postponed Euro 2020 marked a first for UEFA in being held in cities across the continent, but also set a precedent for major international tournaments as a whole in adopting a predominantly mobile ticketing model.

Taking place from June 11 to July 11 in 11 venues across 11 countries, and in four different time zones, Euro 2020 represented a considerable logistical challenge, even before factoring in the myriad difficulties presented by COVID-19.

In April 2018, UEFA appointed SecuTix, the global SaaS ticketing and audience management solution provider, as its ticketing software licence provider for 2018 through to 2021. Under the deal, UEFA has handled all ticketing and hospitality sales for its events through the SecuTix system.

The current contract built on the successful partnership between UEFA and SecuTix dating back to 2013, which included the provision of ticketing software for France’s staging of Euro 2016. The new multi-country model for Euro 2020 saw SecuTix’s software significantly enhanced to support the complexities of the tournament.

Looking back at the overall success of the Euro 2020 ticketing operation amid what were multiple challenges facing the tournament, Caspar Fall, major projects lead at SecuTix, told TheStadiumBusiness.com: “UEFA Euro 2020 was an operational success and demonstrated that mobile ticketing can be deployed at scale for very large tournaments without difficulty, provided that the system used has been thoroughly tested and validated.

“There are many challenges with mobile operations that only become apparent at very large scales and preparing for one million mobile tickets is quite different from handling a single match.

“For instance, before the tournament, it was necessary to validate mobile apps across a very broad range of mobile devices. It was also necessary to conduct load testing, with dedicated robots simulating large numbers of fans entering a stadium, to make sure the platform backend could sustain the load experienced in real life, and that it would remain accessible 100% of the time.

“Our preparations proved fruitful, and the mobile ticketing solution worked extremely well. Mobile operations will no doubt continue to be an essential part of all events, particularly large-scale ones.”

With COVID-19 taking hold across the world, UEFA in March 2020 took the decision to postpone Euro 2020 by a year. At this point, the logistical challenge of hosting a major sporting event across multiple countries became even greater and the venue plan, which had already evolved from the initial choice of 13 host cities in September 2014, began to change once again.

With UEFA determined to ensure that Euro 2020 would take place with fans in attendance, a series of summit meetings were held earlier this year at which host venues were required to present stadium capacity guarantees.

In April, a definitive venue plan was agreed as Munich retained its hosting rights, with Bilbao and Dublin being dropped as host cities and their games for the rescheduled tournament reassigned to Seville, London and Saint Petersburg.

On April 9, UEFA granted Munich, Rome, Bilbao and Dublin extra time to provide additional information of their plans for Euro 2020, after confirming what the remaining eight host cities had outlined as their fan attendance plans for the tournament.

Following UEFA’s decision on April 9, Rome confirmed it would be able to host the opening ceremony and first match of Euro 2020 after Italian authorities agreed to a plan that would allow at least 18,000 fans to attend games at the Stadio Olimpico.

This left Munich, Bilbao and Dublin to confirm their plans, with the latter two cities having been at most risk. The four matches initially scheduled to take place in Bilbao were moved to the Estadio La Cartuja in Seville.

The three Group E matches initially scheduled for Dublin’s Aviva Stadium were reallocated to the Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg, which was already hosting three Group B matches and a quarter-final. The round-of-16 match initially scheduled in Dublin was moved to Wembley.

Fall states that while mobile ticketing was already set to play a significant role due to the very nature of Euro 2020, the pandemic only served to intensify this. He continued: “UEFA always had a long-term vision to build and deploy a mobile ticketing solution, over several years, progressively increasing the number of tickets pushed through the platform.

“The 2019 UEFA Nations League finals, in Portugal, were a small four-match tournament, designed to be an early rehearsal for UEFA Euro 2020. At that time, over 100,000 mobile tickets were issued and over 85% of fans in some matches had mobile tickets.

“This achievement helped to convince UEFA that it was possible to scale up the solution to the level of a 51-match tournament which for the first time ever was being played across several different countries. To meet the challenge of ticketing in 11 countries, four time zones, several different languages and across seven different access control providers, mobile ticketing was always going to play a key role.

“Throughout 2020 and 2021, when the pandemic struck, it became clear that the mobile ticketing solution was going to be a necessary feature, not a nice-to-have extra. Rather than handling ticket sales one year before the tournament, as used to happen for the general public tickets before COVID, the system now had to cope with ticket sales pushed to the last minute due to changes of match locations and changes of allowed capacity.

“The last six months were mainly taken up trying to identify potential blockers to mobile operations in special cases and lifting them to make sure mobile tickets were adopted as widely as possible. So globally, UEFA’s vision had put them in a very good place to cope with the pandemic, even before it struck.”

SecuTix and UEFA also had to deal with challenges as diverse as several different languages, legislations, VAT rates, and operating across seven different access control providers. With COVID-19 in mind, there were also varying local restrictions to contend with, as well as venue changes weeks before the tournament, differing stadium capacity levels and the ever-changing travel restrictions.

Fall said: “SecuTix continued to support UEFA to tweak the platform and expand the boundaries of its functional use. For instance, we added a feature specific to the operation of mobile tickets for hospitality guests, which was first put to use at UEFA Euro 2020. We also enhanced the mobile App to support a larger number of mobile tickets on one phone to allow B2B customers receiving a lot of tickets across many matches (e.g. TV broadcasters) to make full use of the solution.

“Operationally, the SecuTix team were closely involved in addressing the challenges that the pandemic brought up, and through discussions with the UEFA ticketing team, we worked out the best procedures to maximise the full potential of the ticketing solution. Specific processes were created to handle ticket returns to UEFA, mass refunds, and new seating algorithms, for instance.”

Fall believes the universal mobile ticketing strategy also translated into an improved fan experience for Euro 2020 attendees. More than 860,000 users registered in the tournament’s mobile app, and 60% of tickets were downloaded to the app within just one hour of distribution.

The UEFA Euro 2020 app worked by generating a unique, secure encrypted ticket for Android and iOS smartphones that was entirely traceable. This removed the risk of counterfeit tickets while simplifying the process of transferring tickets.

Using the app, fans with tickets could securely download, transfer, keep, or assign a guest a ticket, at any point. The app was fully translated into 11 languages and it enabled ticket buyers to transfer tickets to their guests.

Fall said: “Mobile tickets have been very well adopted by all segments of the tournament spectators. Having reached over 95% adoption of mobile tickets in the largest UEFA Euro 2020 matches at Wembley, mobile tickets became the norm, and were distributed to the general public, to the fans of each team, to a large range of officials, to broadcasters, and to hospitality guests. There was some concern that this process might prove tricky for some customers, but in the end, it was a huge success.

“For fans, receiving a secure mobile ticket immediately after a last-minute purchase, mobile ticketing is obviously much more convenient than going to collect a physical ticket onsite at the venue. This was the case for Euro 2016, where there were a lot of ‘on site collections’, handled by groups of volunteers.

“UEFA also recognised that due to the pandemic, some fans might be prevented from coming to the games through illness. Such fans were allowed to transfer mobile tickets to their friends, and this was accomplished with ease thanks to mobile tickets and ‘phone to phone’ transfers. There were 560,000 fan-to-fan ticket transfers during the tournament, which would not have been possible without this solution.”

And for the fan experience, read the stadium operations experience, according to Fall, who feels the model put in place by SecuTix made stadia more COVID-secure.

He added: “Having a ticket delivered to a smart phone made on-site collections for last-minute online sales unnecessary. This avoided the usual congregating of fans in large numbers at ticket collection points to obtain their tickets.

“We introduced, at UEFA’s request, a new feature to allow UEFA to set and communicate various timeslots to spread fans access into the stadium over several hours. Timeslots featured on thermal printed tickets and on the mobile app.

“Depending on each venue, UEFA could split the tickets sold into timeslots in different ways, to conform to stadium access requirements. This minimised COVID contact before spectators were seated in the stadium and ensured correct social distancing, adding a level of much-needed confidence during uncertain times.”

SecuTix is a sponsor of this year’s TheStadiumBusiness Summit, which will take place at Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester on November 30 and December 1. Click here to meet them.

Images: UEFA