The prospect of the FIFA Women’s World Cup not being broadcast in at least five major European countries this summer is nothing short of disastrous for women’s soccer and its media partners, sponsors and fans. The sport’s popularity has never been higher across the globe and under normal circumstances this year’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand should set records for both live attendance and TV viewing.
Without knowing the specific amounts and terms broadcasters have bid for the rights in England, Germany, France, Spain and Italy, it’s impossible to determine whether those media entities are offering “very disappointing” and “simply not acceptable” numbers, as FIFA president Gianni Infantino insists, or whether the governing body is seeking fees that are simply not commercially viable for broadcasters.
But should the situation remain at an impasse as we edge closer to the opening matches on July 20, is it realistic to think that FIFA’s corporate partners and/or national team sponsors in the five countries could offer a potential solution?
Faced with potentially missing out on reaching millions of viewers, would it make sense for some or all of those companies to chip in and fill the gap between what broadcasters are willing to pay and the price FIFA wants?
Although that is not a burden that should fall on brands—who have already committed millions of dollars in sponsorship fees and presumably are set to spend more on advertising during the matches, thus already underwriting the media rights fees—the circumstances here could make it worthwhile. (Again, how worthwhile is difficult to say without knowing the actual cost.)
In addition to securing those millions of eyeballs, contributing brands could position themselves as heroes riding in to ensure that fans of some of the tourney’s top teams get to see their matches, not to mention clearly demonstrating commitment to the sport and its players.
On the other hand, in addition to not wanting to shell out more for benefits they rightfully assumed they had already paid for, sponsors may be reluctant to make such a move so as not to set a dangerous precedent that they can always be looked at as the safety net when broadcasters and rights holders can’t agree on price.
While not on the same scale, a similar situation arose in 2017 when a dispute between German TV broadcasters and Int’l Handball Federation rights holder beIN Media Group meant the World Handball Championships were not going to be shown in the country where the sport was created 100 years prior and remained immensely popular.
At the eleventh hour, Deutsche Kreditbank, the then title sponsor of Handball Bundesliga, Germany’s professional league, acquired the exclusive live broadcast rights from beIN and live streamed the event’s matches free on a dedicated, geo-blocked website with technical assistance from YouTube.
With plenty of moves left to play out over the next two months, time will tell whether the Women’s World Cup will look to a similar white knight or knights.