Q&A: UEFA's IT challenges in the run up to EURO 2016

Football fans throughout Europe will have the day marked in their diaries; 10 June, the start of EURO 2016 in France where the top European teams will compete for the championship.

Whilst excitement builds amongst fans, UEFA's IT team will be working furiously to make sure everything runs smoothly during the tournament, where millions of fans will be watching around the world.

We recently had the chance to speak to Daniel Marion, Head of ICT at UEFA, to discuss the challenges his IT team will face in the run up to the tournament.

  1. What are the typical challenges faced when staging international sports tournaments?

The main challenge for the UEFA European Championship or any competition is often organisational, so the challenge of working in one or many different countries. On the technology side, for us, each competition builds on the ones before. So, for instance, the foundation of what we use for EURO 2016 is what we have used for every other competition up to that point e.g. the UEFA Champions League or other Competitions, and so we refresh the solutions for our competitions on a yearly basis.

We are constantly evolving, but I would estimate that, for example, for the EURO we will use 70-80 per cent of what we’ve used previously for our most recent competitions. The back-office functions will generally be pretty similar from a business process perspective, but then there are other elements we have to implement from scratch like the International Broadcast Centre and the network architecture and the integration with the different authorities.

  1. Will there be any unique challenges posed by EURO 2016?

The main difference is the increased scale, as this tournament will last longer, there will be more teams playing and we will have more stadiums than before. This impacts everything from the management of tournament logistics, players, sponsors to guests and media. Simply ensuring for instance, that the right people have the right accreditations in place to access the stadium zones they need becomes a bigger more complex task.

Interoute supports this by hosting the FAME (Football Admiration Management Environment) application, accessed by around 40,000 users, this application is critical as it underpins the whole event logistics management and delivery of UEFA products and services for broadcasters sponsors and fans. Stadium security access accreditations, sponsor tickets, advertising rights and hospitality passes and even parking allocations for TV trucks are all managed through the FAME application.

  1. Mobile device streaming has grown significantly in the last couple of years, how has this impacted the infrastructure required?

As a B2B company, our business is to sell rights for live content to media partners (mainly broadcasters). They are changing the way they distribute football content to their fans using internet age tools, and we are changing as well to be compatible with the latest trends.

Technologically speaking, we have put in place a lot more solutions for mobile and tablets than we had in 2012, through our partners DeltaTre and using hosting in the Interoute Virtual Data Centre cloud. We’ve also made updates to the UEFA.com site, which is hosted by Interoute. The new design of UEFA.com means the site is now adaptive, specifically to target mobile users.

  1. How have audience demands changed in the last few years?

People now consume news and results on their mobile phones, tablets and expect more interaction on social channels. That means as a content creator, you still make the content, but you have no idea where it will be consumed. Fans might consume the content you show on your website, or they might consume it on Twitter or Instagram over a mobile phone, so we have to make sure it’s suited to any device, anywhere.

  1. What staffing challenges are you expecting to face? Are you expecting to face a challenge of finding/involving people with the adequate skills?

The challenge is behind us and yes, it is challenging to source the people in technology to organise and run sporting events of this size. You need people who are engaged and driven to solve problems. On top, they need to have the capacity to move from a more planning and strategic way of thinking to a more operational and pragmatic role.

  1. Looking ahead to EURO 2020, what new challenges do you think will emerge?

The biggest challenge I see for 2020 is how we will operate in the 13 different locations in different countries. We are currently working out what the best way to build the teams to run the event will be. In terms of future technologies, we are also investigating opportunities for us in both the Big Data and IoT space.

If you count social listening as something done within the Big Data space, we’re already applying a great deal of that, and continue to look for ways to enhance the fan experience through this insight.