The women’s football World Cup is just weeks away from kicking off (July 20th), but a TV rights deal has not been done in five key countries – the UK, France, Spain, Germany and Italy. Yup, we may not be able to watch the European champion Lionesses here at home.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino is threatening to pull the plug on broadcasts in these European countries, saying the broadcasters have not offered enough. BBC News reported that the sum proposed was between $1m-$10, compared to the $100m-$200m offered for the men’s tournament. Women’s football must be valued properly, but it is hard not to feel that, after years of neglect, the sport’s governing body is now trying to cash in, even if that puts coverage of the tournament at risk. Airing these competitions is absolutely crucial for growing the women’s game. Indeed, Fifa Council member Moya Dodd told the BBC that after years of underpricing women’s football, it is now “a bit rich to scold broadcasters for underpaying”.
Politicians Urge “Quick Resolution” to Women’s World Cup Broadcast Row
Sports ministers from the five countries concerned put out a statement yesterday. Part of the statement, signed by the secretary of state for culture, media and sport Lucy Frazer said:
We are aware of the legitimate interests and budgetary constraints pressuring both assignees and independent broadcasters, who need a viable economic model for each of them. We also recognise the specific organisational constraints that are likely to affect the “market value” of the European broadcasters’ rights (period and hours of broadcasting).
However, we are convinced that the media coverage of the Women’s World Cup will be decisive in improving the global visibility of women’s sports in our European countries. Media exposure to women’s sports has indeed a highly significant impact on the development of women’s and young girls’ sports practices.
It also urged FIFA and other stakeholders “to quickly reach an agreement”.
I’d say that this is rather timid language and that the statement would be much stronger if this was about the men’s World Cup. However, the reality is that the men’s World Cup would never be in this situation. Ever. It is, frankly, pathetic that after the recent growth of the women’s game here and in other European countries TV rights are an issue at all. For reference, the women’s FA Cup final in England between Chelsea and Manchester United generated a record-breaking crowd of 77, 390. (I was one of them!) In Spain, 91,533 were at the Camp Nou to see a Champions League Clasico clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid in March.
Women’s football has never been more popular. The broadcasters should be desperate to capture this moment.