A disagreement over the value of broadcasting rights for the upcoming Women’s World Cup puts part of Europe under the threat of a media blackout. With the tournament fast approaching, European Governments urge FIFA and broadcasters to reach a quick agreement.
The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off on July 20th and with the build-up to major tournaments being an exciting time for football fans worldwide, it’s a different story for fans across parts of Europe, because it remains unclear whether they will have the possibility of watching the tournament at all.
This is because FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, has been “outraged” by the low offers from broadcasting companies and has stated that “if offers continue to not be fair [to women and women’s football], we will be forced not to broadcast the FIFA Women’s World Cup into the ‘Big 5’ European countries”.
This leaves the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany and Italy in a situation which could be harmful for the development of the women’s game.
In the past, FIFA sold the rights for the women’s tournament together with the men’s, as a package for broadcasters, where there was exclusivity over several games and similar exposure opportunities for sponsors throughout both tournaments. However, it is clear that FIFA saw potential in separating the two tournaments, as in 2021 Infantino announced that they would be promoting the tournaments separately for the first time as part of FIFA’s commitment to women’s football: in increasing both the funding and prize money in the women’s international game.
Initial offers for rights from broadcasting companies were reportedly between $1m-$10m, in comparison to the $100m-$200m which was paid for the men’s tournament. In England, BBC and ITV’s joint bid was said to be around the figure of €9m which is just 8% of what they paid to broadcast the men’s World Cup in Qatar late last year.
FIFA has raised the prize money of the tournament to $152m, which equates to three times the amount of that of the 2019 edition and a staggering ten times more than in 2015, so Infantino’s outrage derives from the fact that broadcasting companies are not matching this. Their argument for broadcasters to do more, results from FIFA’s “moral and legal obligation not to undersell” the tournament, and that low offers are “a slap in the face of all the great FIFA Women’s World Cup players and all women worldwide”.
It is entirely right for FIFA to propose higher broadcasting fees for the development of the women’s game, however the organisation has overlooked and undervalued the tournament in the past. With FIFA sitting in cash reserves of near $4 billion, they have the power to amplify the women’s game and ensure female footballers are higher paid and treater equally to their male counterparts.
With 42 days to go, something needs to change quickly.
On the 31st of May 2023, the Government issued a statement to vocalise the concerns of the 5 nations at issue, where “we consider it our responsibility to fully mobilise all stakeholders, for them to quickly reach an agreement”.
"We are convinced that the media coverage of the Women’s World Cup will be decisive in improving the global visibility of women’s sports in our European countries. Media exposure to women’s sports has indeed a highly significant impact on the development of women’s and young girls’ sports practices.”
The threat of a blackout in Europe’s biggest footballing countries becomes a lose-lose situation, where no one wins. FIFA will not get the money they are looking for, broadcasters will receive no viewing figures, and most significant of all, not showing the largest, most prestigious prospect globally in women's football it is harmful for the development of the women's game.
In the past, the women’s game has been reliant on major tournaments to boost its profile. The blackout provides the threat that the impact of the Lionesses’ 2022 Euro win will not be capitalised on, already we have seen a huge increase of involvement and popularity from their success as average WSL attendances have increased by 200% since their victory and has really put women’s football on the map in England.
It has also been incredibly important in promoting involvement in football, for women and girls, and has sparked investment into grassroots girls’ football which has been significant in maintaining a sustainable future for women’s football.
So, why not capitalise on the ever-growing product, now more than ever? The question remains, will FIFA solve this issue, and if so, when?