FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, has threatened a broadcast blackout of the Women’s World Cup in Europe due to the “disappointing” offers made by media outlets, calling them a “slap in the face” to female players and the women’s game. Stating that the offers made by broadcasters in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy are “not acceptable”, Infantino revealed that there may be no broadcast coverage of this summer’s World Cup in Europe’s “Big 5” countries. However, FIFA itself is to blame for the undervaluing of the women’s game, and refusing to broadcast the World Cup would continue to hamper the development of women’s football.
The 2023 Women’s World Cup will be hosted by Australia and New Zealand this summer, however, with less than two months before the tournament, no broadcast offers from the Big Five European countries have been accepted. For FIFA, bids for broadcasting rights in these countries undersell the tournament and the women’s game in general. Gianni Infantino believes that FIFA has done its part by increasing the prize fund for the upcoming tournament and committing to equal prize money in its next edition, and has called on broadcasters, especially public broadcasters who have previously criticised football organisations for not promoting equal pay, to up their bids and help generate more revenue for the women’s game. He says that if they do not, FIFA will not broadcast the World Cup.
However, FIFA has laid the foundations for the undervaluing of women’s football. Rights to the men’s and women’s World Cups have historically been bundled. Previous bids and deals have centred around acquiring the men’s tournament, with broadcasters receiving a two-for-one deal, gaining the women’s tournament as a bonus. There has never been a true valuation of the tournaments as separate, standalone events. Bundling has therefore created the idea that women’s tournaments should not cost broadcasters much as they previously received them for free. Demands for more money from FIFA also raises the issue that broadcasters will not want to pay up to double what they previously did when the tournaments were bundled.
Former Australian international and FIFA official Moya Dodd says that FIFA’s statement that revenues from this World Cup will go into women’s football “overlooks the fact that the value of the women’s rights have until now been used to inflate the value of men’s football”. By failing to make the value of the women’s game clear and not previously encouraging the industry to separately pay for the rights to women’s tournaments, FIFA is partly to blame for the meagre bids it has received for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Infantino states that bids have been between 20 to 100 times lower than bids for the World Cup in Qatar.
The issue of time zones also affects broadcasting bids. Games will be held outside prime time viewing hours, with some key matches taking place as early as 02:00 (BST). Whilst the majority will take place between 08:00 and 11:00, this will still affect the offers media outlets make, as they consider the effect this will have on viewing figures and advertising partnerships.
Infantino’s statement of viewing figures being 50-60% of the men’s World Cup is not entirely accurate. When comparing FIFA global audience report figures for the 2018 Men’s World Cup and the 2019 Women’s World Cup, both of which were held in Europe, viewing figures for women’s final were roughly 16% of the men’s final. Last summer’s European Women’s Championships saw a large growth in audience ratings for home-nation matches, but not for other games. This can further explain the disconnect between media bids and FIFA’s demands.
Refusing to broadcast the Women’s World Cup in Europe in the name of inclusivity and equality could be seen as hypocritical from an organisation that is offering a quarter of the prize money that was available at the Qatar World Cup, and that is only now for the first time ensuring that competing teams will receive the same conditions and services as teams at the men’s tournament. Whilst FIFA is concerned with profit and the impact that a lack of funds will have on development of the women’s game, its cash reserves of around £4 billion could be used to achieve equal pay and grow women’s football.
Not broadcasting the Women’s World Cup on television would be devastating for the women’s game, and for inclusivity and equality within sport in general. With interest in women’s football growing, this summer presents an important opportunity to further increase interest and funding for the sport. FIFA+, FIFA’s own free streaming platform, is an option, and if no deals are reached, the tournament may be taken directly to viewers. FIFA’s current solution to the undervaluation of the World Cup is to take it away from broadcasters. This will make the women’s game less visible, and continue to foster an environment in which women’s football is viewed as not equal. Instead, by broadcasting the tournament, women’s football will be able to continue to generate momentum. This is what will encourage more investment, more revenue, and decrease the undervaluation of the sport.
[By Hannah Stewart, she/her]