The ongoing row between FIFA and the TV companies over the value of broadcast rights for the upcoming Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this summer (or this winter, if you are actually in Australia or New Zealand) is a watershed moment for women’s sport, and a dangerous one. But the real danger isn’t quite what everyone wants you to think it is.
In a nutshell, FIFA are threatening to withhold the TV rights to the Women’s World Cup from European broadcasters unless they pony-up significantly more cash, insisting that the rights are worth something much closer to what the TV companies pay for the men’s tournament. In a spectacular display of chutzpah, they are invoking equality to make their argument – suggesting that the TV companies are now the ones holding back the growth of women’s sport.
The broadcasters in return argue that they just don’t have any more money.
And the thing is… the broadcasters have a point.
The BBC in particular can’t just pop down to Cash Converters and magic-up more wonga – it can’t sell more ads, or put up subscriptions – its income is based on the license fee, which is currently frozen until 2024, at a time when inflation is running at well over 10%. Every penny it spends on buying the rights to the Women’s World Cup is a penny it can’t spend on other things… like… cricket.
ITV isn’t quite that constrained, but the emphasis is on “quite” – it would have to sell a lot of adverts (at some not-exactly-prime times, given the schedule of a tournament on the other side of the world) to justify paying more. Again, if it does, that’s probably money that is going to come from something else too.
So we’ve reached a crossroads – one where we must face an important question. But what is that question?
If you ask FIFA, the question is: Are the rights to the women’s tournament worth the same as the men’s?
But the real question is this: Are we going to take let FIFA blackmail us into taking yet more money from other sports (like… say… random example… cricket!) and giving it instead to the richest sport on the planet?
In short: Are we going to continue to let football eat everything?
And when you look at it like that, I think we probably know what the right answer is.
So how can we cut through and reach a solution?
We all (well… everyone reading this site, anyway) want more money for women’s sport, and FIFA do have a point that the rights for the men’s and women’s tournaments should be of equal value.
But as someone once said, there is no magic money tree! Increasingly, the only way to find more money for women’s sport is going to be to cut some of our spend on men’s sport.
In this particular case, the broadcasters have wayyyy overpaid for the rights to the (men’s) World Cup – an event that legally has to be shown on free-to-air TV – for far too long, and that needs to change. So the answer is for the BBC to offer FIFA more money for the Women’s World Cup – but only if they accept a corresponding deduction in the value of the men’s rights.
Long term, that is the only sustainable solution for a fair balance not only between men’s and women’s sport, but also between football and every other game on the planet.