GENEVA — Publicly criticizing broadcasters for offering to pay too little to screen the Women’s World Cup has not worked out yet for FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who is now threatening a blackout in major European markets.
A public standoff started by Infantino last October was intensified late Monday when he warned five key countries – England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain – where deals are still not signed less than three months before the tournament starts in Australia and New Zealand.
“To be very clear, it is our moral and legal obligation not to undersell the FIFA Women’s World Cup,” Infantino said in a statement about the July 20-Aug. 20 tournament.
“Therefore, should the offers continue not to be fair (towards women and women’s football), we will be forced not to broadcast the FIFA Women’s World Cup into the ‘Big 5’ European countries.”
England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain have all qualified for the first Women’s World Cup to have 32 teams, and FIFA has a standby broadcasting option with its own online streaming platform FIFA+.
Europe is FIFA’s most lucrative broadcast market with $1.06 billion in TV revenue for the 2019-22 commercial cycle, mostly tied to the men’s World Cup in Qatar.
FIFA reported total financial reserves close to $4 billion at the end of 2022 with $3.43 billion in broadcast revenue from total income of $7.57 billion in the past four years.
Infantino first aired the Women’s World Cup broadcasting issue seven months ago, when in Auckland for the official draw for the tournament. He said then that offers as low as 1% of the equivalent TV rights price paid for the men’s World Cup were “not acceptable.”
In March, for world soccer’s annual meeting in Rwanda, Infantino reported no progress with TV broadcasters while also announcing a more than three-fold increase in team prize money to $110 million for the tournament.
Infantino has been clearly rankled that player-led criticism of FIFA for not offering equal prize money – the 32 men’s teams shared $440 million prize money at the 2022 World Cup – is amplified by media he believes is undervaluing women’s soccer.
The Women’s World Cup has standalone broadcast and sponsor deals rather than being bundled with the men’s tournament – a policy started since Infantino was elected in 2016, when he pledged “continued and intensified effort” to develop the women’s game.
The FIFA leader suggested on Monday “public broadcasters in particular have a duty to promote and invest in women’s sport.”
“Women deserve it! As simple as that!” he said.
However, Infantino’s repeated criticism of European public service broadcasters has included Britain’s BBC which regularly broadcasts domestic women’s games live. The BBC’s sports department has been led by a woman, Barbara Slater, for 14 years.
Asked for a response on Tuesday to Infantino’s threat, the BBC said it did not comment on sports negotiations.
This Women’s World Cup is far from an ideal time zone for European broadcasters. Daytime games in Australia and New Zealand play in the early hours of the morning in Europe, though Infantino said that was not an excuse.
Acknowledging it was not primetime in Europe, Infantino noted the European kickoff times of 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. “is quite a reasonable time” for viewers.
“It doesn’t make any economic sense because the viewing figures are there,” he added.
At the 2019 Women’s World Cup hosted by France, FIFA claimed a total global audience of 1.12 billion for the 52-game tournament across all broadcast platforms.
A verified average live audience of 82 million viewers watched the 2019 final with 263 million people watching at least one minute of the United States’ victory over the Netherlands.
While FIFA is playing hardball with broadcasters, European soccer body UEFA took a different approach to build an audience for its annual Women’s Champions League competition – giving games away for free on YouTube.
UEFA signed a four-year deal in 2021 with streaming platform DAZN that ensured fans in Europe could watch the first two seasons on YouTube. Some games will also be free for the next two seasons.
Many European countries are already assured of seeing most or all of the 64-game Women’s World Cup on free-to-air channels.
The European Broadcasting Union announced a collective 28-nation deal with FIFA in October that covers Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Ireland, Switzerland and Turkey. The value was not disclosed.
FIFA’s policy of separate deals for the women’s tournament previously made headlines this year when soccer and public officials in Australia and New Zealand objected to planned sponsorship by the Saudi Arabia tourism board. The “Visit Saudi” campaign previously paid FIFA to support the men’s World Cup in Qatar.
Infantino said in Rwanda the talks had not proceeded to a contract, and suggested critics of the projected deal had a double standard given the value of Australia’s annual trade with Saudi Arabia.