FIFA says the Women’s World Cup faces a TV blackout in Europe

The head of world soccer’s governing body on Tuesday sharply criticized European broadcasters for not meeting Fifa’s demands for an increase in television rights fees for this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. He threatened that if the performances did not improve, the championship matches would not be televised in many of Europe’s largest markets.

“It is our moral and legal duty not to promote the FIFA Women’s World Cup,” said Gianni Infantino, the head of the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He added, “So, if the bids continue to be unfair, we will be forced to not broadcast the FIFA Women’s World Cup to the ‘big five’ European nations.” That group includes England, Germany, France, Spain and Italy – all of whom will be sending teams to the tournament.

In the wake of the unverifiable figures, Infantino described the offers for World Cup rights as a “slap in the face” not only to World Cup players but to women in general.

The comments escalated into a battle that Infantino opened last year, when he and FIFA rejected initial bids for women’s tournament rights from several countries as too low. At the time, he framed the fight as a fight for fairness, and has since positioned himself as the champion of women’s soccer by boosting prize money for this year’s tournament and vowing to reward it with a men’s World Cup by 2027.

But he will need hundreds of millions of dollars from broadcasters and sponsors to make good on those promises, and his threat not to broadcast the games in Europe—a key driver of the growth of the women’s game—comes with serious risks.

With just over two months to go until the tournament kicks off in Australia and New Zealand, and little starting to come to an agreement, the row threatens to overshadow the biggest Women’s World Cup yet. FIFA expanded the event to 32 teams for the first time as a sign of its commitment to the development of the women’s game, and increased the prize money for players and support money for participating teams to $150 million, five times more than previously. The tournament held in France in 2019.

Infantino hoped that much of this commitment would be funded by higher rights fees from international broadcasters. But in a rebuke to media companies at last year’s World Cup draw in Auckland and at FIFA’s annual meeting in March in Rwanda, he said that was not the case. Each time, he criticized television companies for not paying more for a product and, he said, viewing figures proved increasingly popular.

With little movement since then, he’s taken a tougher line in his recent comments.

“I therefore call on all players, fans, football officials, presidents, prime ministers, politicians and journalists around the world to join us and support this call for a fair reward for women’s football,” he said, repeating his remarks. on his Instagram account. “Women deserve it. That simple.”

While women’s soccer in the United States – where there is a TV deal – and in Europe have enjoyed greater investment and spectatorship in recent years, the numbers for their biggest matches are often much lower than for similar men’s soccer games, and less attractive fixtures. It sometimes struggles to get even the crowd into the stadium. Broadcasters also seem to be taking a cautious stance about giving value to Women’s World Cup rights that were not previously on the market. This year is the first time that FIFA has separated the women’s tournament from the men’s tournament. Previously, women’s rights were bundled as an additional element in the bid for rights to the men’s World Cup.

Infantino acknowledged that playing the tournament in Australia and New Zealand could be an important factor for broadcasters in Europe, however said the amounts currently being offered for the tournament are a fraction of what FIFA considers his true value. He noted that while viewership figures for the women’s tournament are between 50 percent and 60 percent of those for the men’s World Cup, the amounts shown for the women’s games were much lower than that: in Europe alone, he said, “20 to 100 times less than Men’s FIFA World Cup.

Infantino said: “While broadcasters pay $100-200m for the men’s FIFA World Cup, they only offer $1-10m for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. This is a slap in the face to all FIFA Women’s World Cup players, and in the face to all women around the world.” the world “.

There has been a surge of interest in women’s football in Britain, Europe’s biggest market, which culminated when England beat Germany to win the European Championship on home soil last year. The final was played in front of a packed Wembley Stadium and was watched on television by over 17 million people, the highest viewership for a televised women’s match in Britain. The figure for the final represents 35 percent of the game’s total global audience, according to data from European football’s governing body.

However, the same data highlights how some women’s games in certain markets draw large audiences, but also highlights broadcasters’ concerns about watching numbers for games that don’t feature top-tier teams in the tournament that will see more games than ever before. According to news media reports, the BBC and ITV – the two major British broadcasters – each bid around £9 million ($11.2 million) for the World Cup rights, the highest among European broadcasters. The offer from Italy is about $1 million.

The inability of FIFA and broadcasters to reach rights agreements in the next two months does not necessarily mean that the Games will not be available to fans in Europe. FIFA officials have previously talked about possible alternatives, including broadcasting games on its streaming platform or on FIFA’s YouTube channel. However, such a move would carry its own risks, both by reducing viewing and revenue figures for an event – and a sport – to which FIFA has an explicit commitment to growth.

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