In 2022, FIFA plans to stream over 29,000 men’s matches and 11,000 women’s matches on its FIFA+ streaming app. Initially, these live streams are all free for users; initially being the key word. Advertising and sponsorship are surely on the horizon.
FIFA oversees six confederations and 211 individual men’s nations as members. Plus, there are 129 women’s associations. Everything runs through FIFA in the end, essentially meaning that kickoffs do not happen without FIFA’s say.
Speculation is rife in soccer. FIFA claims that FIFA+ is ‘truly global and inclusive.’ In other words, it is there to grow the game and connect fans from across the world through the sport.
But is FIFA+ a free streaming service that’s being offered out of the goodness of FIFA’s heart? Or does FIFA have ulterior motives to control the broadcasting of soccer for its own benefit?
FIFA+ could end up being the vehicle for FIFA to lay claim to some of the broadcasting rights deals that dominate the sports media industry. There’s no doubt that the future of soccer broadcasting is streaming. At the same time, FIFA is laser focused on increasing its power and control over the world’s game.
FIFA+ could be its entryway into future deals.
Imagine these two possible scenarios:
FIFA corrals all the confederations and associations and presents the ultimate financial plan. Here, each member and confederation gets a share of revenue relative to the audience generated for each game. Then, each organization distributes the money relative to the points in each league table. Individual leagues or nations also take ratings per game into account for distribution.
Now, that seems simple enough. Each team makes the money relative to their popularity, viewership and success. Ergo, everyone goes home happy. However, this is not the case in the world of soccer.
Egos and the executives have prejudices over who deserves and earns certain money. Some owners firmly believe that their club deserves more than any other club in a certain league.
This is not an issue selective to club soccer, either. The associations controlling the worldwide broadcasting rights do not want to see income diminished in the short term. Clearly, TV broadcasting deals rake in billions of dollars each year at both the club and international level.
No one likes to lose potential gains in a deal. Billionaire owners in various soccer leagues might not thrive based on knowledge of soccer. However, they do possess knowledge on money, and lots of it.
Similarly, the relationship between FIFA and UEFA has no love lost.
Some of the confederations fall in to line with FIFA’s plan on monetary distribution. Yet, UEFA, which represents Europe, understands that it is the most popular. The Premier League, Bundesliga, LaLiga, Serie A, Ligue Un, European Championships and the UEFA Champions League are unrivaled. Consequently, the media rights deals throughout UEFA are bigger than anywhere else.
UEFA does not want its money generated via broadcast deals sent off to some team in the back of beyond. UEFA may argue that FIFA+ should take care of the smaller confederations, leagues and teams.
A European-centric version of FIFA+, perhaps running on its already established platform of UEFA TV, would rival all the other confederations’ content put together. The lone exception is CONMEBOL in South America.
Imagine the hypothetical potential of something like UEFA TV. Every European League and Cup match available on your streaming device. Initially, it is free. It pulls in the viewers to show how great it is before loading it up with sponsorships, subscriptions and advertising.
Could UEFA deny FIFA+ access to league games? FIFA states that FIFA+ carries live games from each of the six confederations. Yet, is there reason to believe UEFA could step in and take control of that?
FIFA+, streaming and broadcasting soccer
On the speculation front, let’s say either Plan A or Plan B – maybe Plans C, D, E come up. How do individual broadcasters cope with these plans?
The world today revolves around cord-cutting and streaming to watch soccer. Even then, many fans still watch the world’s most popular sport via OTA or cable. Development of super fast internet reaches remote spans of the globe. Each of the global networks broadcasting soccer has a streaming version of its linear channels.
Imagine if Plan A and Plan B come along. Fans can access all these games through streaming. Initially, this is a free service to ‘grow the game.’ Yet, after a certain span of time, FIFA+ or some other competitor becomes $9.99 per month for streaming services.
The consequences would be grave for OTA and cable sport. Major sports broadcasters, including CBS, FOX, ESPN and NBC in the U.S., would not be willing to spend billions on soccer rights available in a package elsewhere. Surely, these providers and channels would find other TV product to spend heaps of money on. In the end, this scenario could lead to no soccer on OTA and cable.
Other streaming platforms
And where does Plan A or Plan B leave the relative newcomers to the streaming world. Apple, Amazon, Facebook, DAZN all have a stake in the future of soccer streaming.
Today it is soccer, tomorrow it could be any other major sport in the United States. If the National Football League sees one of the aforementioned plans working, not much would stop them from seeking out the more lucrative options. The NFL is already exploring something called NFL+ to take over the streaming side of the sport. It would, exactly like FIFA+, include live games, team content, podcasts and more, according to The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan.
Money talks, and the NFL receives a lot of money from FOX, ABC, NBC and CBS. The Premier League receives a hefty portion from NBC, as does LaLiga from ESPN or UEFA from CBS. However, streaming is a new ballgame for these providers and competitions.
For the sport, FIFA+ could be a great idea at its core for streaming. However, the world governing body may have opened its version of Pandora’s Box.
Editor’s note: Dermot McQuarrie is a former FOX Soccer Channel executive. During his 17 years at FOX Sports, McQuarrie was a pioneer in growing the popularity of soccer on television in the United States, ultimately becoming a senior vice president at the company. These days, McQuarrie is CEO at Dermot McQuarrie Associates.
PHOTO: Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
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