Brands can rediscover football's soul at Euro 2016

Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the week’s football action and the stories making the headlines across the beautiful game.

It is a sad yet undeniable fact, but these Euros have started under a dark cloud. They began with terrorist threats dominating the pre-tournament headlines, got under way with crowd violence souring the opening days of the tournament and now have been caught up in the horrific extremist attacks of this week. There have been some bright spots in the action on the pitch, Gareth Bale’s talismanic role for Wales and Italy's wonderful team performance against Belgium notable among them, but where this should have been a great festival of everything good about football, the coverage of the tournament has been dominated by the worst elements of the game and the issues of society it’s been caught up in.

The real human impact of these events shouldn’t be ignored. There have been horrific injuries and even deaths, and so to suggest that we can just move on from these issues would be wrong. But the game needs a distraction, a pick-me-up that gets focus back on the positives of sport and the joy it can bring. Football needs to rediscover its soul at these Euros, and the most likely source might come as a surprise.

It has long been a criticism levelled at modern football that it has become over commercial, that brands have become too central to the game. Some sponsor activations that get too far away from the action on the pitch certainly provoke plenty of ill feeling from fans - see the results of Manchester United’s partnership with 20th Century Fox. However, with the Euros struggling to find their way in a cloud of fan violence and terrorist fears, it could be brands who navigate us back to the heart of what this tournament should be all about.

Take for example this Euros film from tournament sponsor adidas (client) featuring 20 year old starlet Dele Alli .

Showing his world class skills it charts his rise from selfie-taking teenager, his trademark cheekiness and his precocious attitude. This story of a young talent making his major tournament debut and stepping out on this biggest stage is exactly the sort of thing this tournament should be about.

It is incumbent on brands activating around the Euros to tell stories that don't only speak to their brand, but inspire, invigorate and celebrate the very best of the game and the tournament. In this way, brands can be the platform on which the best parts of the tournament can be placed on a pedestal. Brands have been criticised in the past for not addressing these off pitch issues, but if everyone else is focusing on the very worst of the game, why shouldn't brands focus on the very best? Through the stories they tell, we may yet discover the real soul of these European championships.

James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search