If Gianni Infantino has his way, the matter is clear anyway. Then this year there will be the next summer of superlatives, everything bigger, better, more exciting! At the women’s world championships starting on July 20 in Australia and New Zealand, 32 nations are taking part for the first time, eight more than before. With 110 million dollars, the world football association Fifa is only paying out a quarter of the amount that was available for men in Qatar in 2022, but also more prize money than ever before for women. And so Fifa President Infantino announced in March at the association congress in Kigali as part of his re-election: “This is a women’s year. A celebration of football, a celebration of women’s football, a celebration of progress, a celebration of equality. A celebration for everyone .”
Of course, as many as possible should celebrate at this festival for everyone. But there is a problem: 79 days before New Zealand opened the tournament against Norway, the TV rights in the lucrative European core markets have not yet been awarded. No interested parties from England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany have yet been awarded the contract, although the actual tendering period expired in mid-February. And it’s unclear how long this limbo will last and what the outcome of the situation will be. There is more or less radio silence between the two sides right now – and Infantino is threatening a blackout.
How can that be after the 2022 European Championships in England triggered, as the saying goes, hype? The final between the hosts and the German national team was watched by almost 18 million viewers in Germany, and the game at Wembley Stadium was the most-watched TV show of the year, despite the men’s World Cup. But now there is a new situation.
So far, the laced FIFA always a joint sales package of the broadcasting rights for men’s and women’s World Cup. But the division, which has long been suppressed in various countries, has made a spurt in development, interest has increased enormously and with it the potential income. Fifa wants to take advantage of that. So, for the first time, she opted for her own rights package. Now you have to determine what was previously irrelevant: your own market value. But how should this be assessed without comparative figures?
Fifa President Infantino is furious about offers that would be “100 times less” than for the men’s World Cup in Qatar
“The market value cannot simply be determined by Fifa. It arises from the sums that media companies believe they have to spend in competition with others,” says Axel Balkausky, sports coordinator of the ARD. The large time difference also plays a role here. The group games of the DFB women, for example, take place in Germany at 10.30 a.m., 11.30 a.m. and twelve p.m. – when most people are working or some are still in class in the last few days before the summer holidays. In other games, the Europeans are still asleep.
That doesn’t make it impossible to follow this tournament, there have already been various major events in other time zones. However, the ratings for the 2023 World Cup are likely to fall significantly compared to the popular EM 2022, which will make the event less attractive for advertisers. The ideas about which number results from this constellation obviously differ. There is no concrete public discussion about this after the first offers had arrived, he was incensed Gianni Infantino about sums that would be “100 times less, sometimes even more than 100 times less” than for Qatar. “That’s not acceptable,” he said, “we won’t accept that.”
Why, one wonders, did Fifa only advertise a product that they want to sell at a high price for the important German market in mid-January – and the deadline ended a month later? There was no response from Fifa to an SZ inquiry by the time of going to press. With a men’s World Cup, it would be unthinkable that a few months before the start it was unclear who would be broadcasting the games in the core markets. Let alone getting offers so late in the first place. Here, as with the Olympic Games, the contracts are concluded years in advance, and the broadcasters calculate their budgets accordingly in the respective periods. This gives everyone involved planning security.
“We have never experienced such a short-term assignment of rights in this form,” says Balkausky. “This is a completely new approach.” So not only is the independent rights package itself unusual, but also the timing of the assignment. Tactically, this can only be explained by the fact that Fifa wanted to wait and see how women’s football developed in order to be able to push the price up among as many contenders as possible. Because, surprise, Fifa is all about money. According to Infantino, sales should increase from $7.5 billion to $11 billion under his leadership by 2026, which also requires more income from sponsorship deals and broadcasting rights.
One would be only too happy to know which figures Fifa has and which ones it has in mind
“Fifa is playing an obscene game,” said former national goalkeeper Almuth Schult on Deutschlandfunk. In any case, from the point of view of the world association, it looks like this: With a larger field of participants, more prize money and separately offered TV rights, it is doing everything for equality. Gianni Infantino even announced an equal pay rule to apply to both men’s and women’s World Cups from 2026/27. According to its own statements, Fifa has also planned to invest one billion US dollars in the development of women’s football over the past four years.
Although Fifa is swimming in money, it does not want to go down this path alone. Media companies should also contribute “through financial resources to accelerate development and promotion,” she says, and deliver offers that “recognize the true value of the world’s largest women’s football tournament.” However, Balkausky thinks it is a misunderstanding that media companies should contribute to promoting women’s football: “Our job is to reflect the diversity of the sport and to acquire rights for this based on economic principles. But not to distribute as much money as possible to associations.” Especially since it is in the case of ARD and ZDF It’s about fee money and private broadcasters are obviously not going to pay the Fifa price either.
One would be only too happy to know exactly which figures Fifa has and which ones it has in mind. Also, to be able to assess whether the demands of the world association are simply exaggerated and outrageous – or whether it is due to a lack of willingness on the part of the broadcasters to invest. Which, in view of the rumored 214 million euros that ARD and ZDF are said to have paid together for the men’s World Cup in Qatar, including the women’s World Cup in 2019, is suspected by some and interpreted as a lack of appreciation. Criticism came not least in the months after the European Championships, when reporting on women’s international matches was limited to the bare essentials or only ran as live streams.
On Monday, Infantino clarified his position during a panel discussion in Geneva and via social media post. It is the “moral and legal obligation not to undersell the women’s World Cup”, offers are between one and ten million US dollars, it is “a slap in the face to all the great players and all women worldwide”. The Swiss launched an appeal to football players, presidents, prime ministers and made the consequences clear: Without suitable offers “we will be forced not to broadcast the women’s World Cup in the big five European countries”.
However, it is hard to imagine that there is actually a blackout. In its own interest, Fifa wants to generate the greatest possible visibility and reach – which is essential for the development of women’s football. In addition, paragraph 4 of the Interstate Broadcasting Agreement states that a major event must be broadcast “at least in one freely receivable and generally accessible television program”. At the European Championship and World Cup, this applies to those games with German participation as well as the opening game, semi-finals and final. The public broadcasters want to broadcast all games – as in 2011 at the home World Cup as the first broadcaster in the world – and are now waiting to see what happens. But Fifa has to react slowly. Time is running out. And the pressure greater.