Amsterdam ArenA center of EC2020

On Wednesday, June 8th, the Amsterdam ArenA was the center of the organization of the EC2020 that will be played in no less than thirteen countries. The ArenA, the city of Amsterdam and the KNVB [Dutch football federation] took the opportunity presented by Amsterdam Smart City Week to invite all the other host cities, stadiums, football federations and airports to share plans and set common goals. Afterwards we spoke with the Dutch federation president Michael van Praag (MvP) and Amsterdam ArenA director Henk Markerink (HM).

Text: Renske Bruinsma | Photo: Maaike Hek

Why did you arrange for this meeting to take place today?

HM: This week the Amsterdam ArenA is the scene of the Smart City Event 2016. Smart cities are cities that use sustainable and digital technology to boost their economy, security and urban development. The Amsterdam ArenA has been constantly innovating for a long time; we are one of the world leaders in this field. It seemed a good opportunity to talk with fellow host cities, to share our experiences and see where we can strengthen each other.

MvP: It’s been a real eye-opener. We think it’s great that the ArenA took this initiative. Because there are thirteen of us host cities organizing one tournament, it’s a good idea to coordinate things. If you host on a tournament in one country, you’d also get together with stadiums and cities to ensure that it all runs as smoothly as possible. In fact, our thirteen nationalities are now operating as one host country. We’re facing a wonderful challenge together, and we want to make it a unforgettable European Championship.

What is your ambition for EURO 2020?

MvP: In the KNVB we are very well aware that we don’t have the infrastructure in place for The Netherlands to host an entire final round by ourselves. At the same time, we are pretty good at organizing events, such as the Europa League final in 2013, and arguably it is good for the Netherlands and in this case Amsterdam to go on doing so. Putting on EURO 2020 in thirteen host cities is an excellent opportunity for us to excel – we’re going to show just what we can do.

HM: We have huge ambitions for the Amsterdam ArenA in 2020. We’re going for a total remake. Our society is changing; it’s a tremendous technological revolution. This affects our entire core business, whether that be the fan experience, security, mobility – our world is changing at a breakneck speed, and our audience is changing with it. So our events have to change along with it too. That’s why we set up the Amsterdam Innovation Arena, to give those innovations a place. With our Amsterdam ArenA Innovation Center and parties such as KNP, KPMG, TNO, Huawei, Microsoft, Philips Lighting, Amsterdam Smart City and the municipality of Amsterdam we are conducting various experiments in a structured way to make even more things possible.

What does the technological revolution mean in solid terms for the stadium? What are we going to see and experience in the coming years?

HM: Both the outside and inside will see big changes. We are not only changing the seats, but we are also putting in LED lighting and ‘smart’ lamp posts – and the collaborations will change too. There will be no more sponsors that just pay to put their name on a sign and that’s it. We’ll form partnerships that we believe can work with us to ensure our stadium leads the way in this revolution.

For example: the Mobility Portal, where we map real-time traffic so that you get tailor-made transport information in your car, on the train or even on foot. And then I don’t mean the kind of information that you get with standard car navigation, but accurate, up to the exact second, traffic data in collaboration with both private and public partners. That is truly unique in the world. It’s not for nothing that we have just received a grant from the Dutch government and the province to proceed with this project.

MvP: Everything we have seen and heard today has been terrific. In the UEFA I’m chair of the stadium and security committee and in this context I’ll certainly be looking at how we can roll out the Mobility Portal further into Europe.

Amsterdam ArenA is known for its innovative approach. You advise stadiums all over the world. Do the thirteen host cities line up well, or are there differences between, say, Amsterdam and Baku (Azerbaijan) or London and Bucharest?

HM: Of course there are differences and of course not every stadium has the same priorities. Indeed, Brussels and Budapest don’t have stadiums yet, while we see 2020 as a dot on the horizon by which time our stadium we will be as 'smart' as possible. Indeed, we’re well on the way, and that’s just as true for the stadiums in Dublin, Copenhagen and of course for Wembley. But that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening in the other cities. Progress can’t take place on the same level everywhere, but that’s not necessary. Despite the differences, there is always lots of knowledge and experience to share.

MvP: What we must not forget is that this sort of tournament can give a huge boost to a country, a city and a stadium. For all parties involved – and for such a huge tournament that includes local and national governments – it is very important that the stadiums meet the demands of our time.

What was the highlight of the day?

MvP: The fact that we all got together here was the highlight for me. We brought people together who are all involved in the tournament in different ways and who are all going home now feeling totally inspired. And I found the energy storage demonstration fantastic. The whole day has been a great success, as far as I’m concerned.

HM: I found the visit to the Amsterdam Innovation Arena a highlight. We have been able to show that innovation also means demonstrating you have courage. That sometimes you take on projects that might seem unattainable. Of all the projects we start perhaps 50% turn out successful. But then, we manage to solve the problem, which we might have thought would be impossible. The strategic cooperation with our international partners in the private and public sector plays a crucial role here: bringing people with different expertise together and giving them 'playground' means you can get an awful lot done.

Will there be a follow up to this ‘innovation summit’?

MvP: In my final speech I proposed making it an recurring event. Everyone embraced the idea and we will certainly come back here to enjoy a second summit.

HM: I totally agree. It was a very successful day and I heard only positive feedback from the participants. This meeting is an excellent basis for further cooperation.