Report: SoftBank's Son would be key player in Fifa digital venture
A $25-billion offer from an international consortium to invest in new Fifa competitions would also include a stake in a new digital venture at soccer’s international governing body, it has been reported.
The consortium led by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank has been in negotiations with Fifa president Gianni Infantino about supporting an expanded 24-team Club World Cup, to be held every four years, instead of annually, and a global Nations League, to be held in between World Cups, both starting in 2021.
However, in the face of considerable opposition from Europe, Infantino has been forced to delay any vote on proceeding with the plans until after the forthcoming World Cup.
The bid from the consortium would involve SoftBank’s founder and chief executive Masayoshi Son (pictured) having a major role in a joint venture called FIFA Digital Corp., according to the New York Times, which cited information it has reviewed this week.
It is understood that Fifa would have a 51-per-cent stake in the new business, but that the consortium, which include SoftBank’s UK subsidiary SB Investment Advisers and Centricus Partners, a London-based asset management firm, as well as Arab and US investors, is seeking control of the federation’s gaming and merchandise business.
This includes Fifa’s licensing deal with EA Sports, the producer of the popular ‘Fifa’ video game, valued at $150 million a year.
It is reported that Infantino and Son would act as co-chairmen of a 10-member supervisory board at FIFA Digital, with each appointing half of the board’s members.
SoftBank has declined to comment on the reports linking it with Fifa.
Son has already shown a willingness to invest in sport, backing Japan’s entry in last year’s America’s Cup sailing competition, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks baseball team in the country and former England soccer captain David Beckham’s proposed Major League Soccer team in Miami.
However, the proposals drawn up by his consortium and Fifa face a significant hurdle in Uefa, with its president Aleksander Ceferin having this week accused the world body of “considering to sell the soul of football tournaments to nebulous private funds.”
There is also the matter of Japanese advertising giant Dentsu’s deal to market commercial rights to the existing seven-team Club World Cup, which runs until 2022, with the right of first negotiation in 2023 and 2026.
Infantino has declined to confirm the identities of the potential investors, citing non-disclosure agreements, and a 60-day deadline set to conclude a deal has passed, albeit the consortium has granted an extension.
Some prominent clubs including Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona have given their backing to an enlarged Club World Cup, which could be worth up to $100 million for the participants.
However, Uefa and Europe’s top leagues remain opposed to the planned competitions, citing a lack of consultation and potential for greater fixture congestion and player fatigue.
It is thought that Uefa also has concerns that a revamped Club World Cup would undermine its Champions League, acknowledged to be the globe’s top clubs competition.
Confirming the delay on a decision, Fifa said yesterday: “Following the detailed proposal concerning a revamped Fifa Club World Cup and a worldwide Nations League put forward at the Fifa Council meeting in Bogota in March, constructive talks have been held with the relevant stakeholders on these proposals and further consultation will continue in the upcoming weeks.
“An updates on this matter will be presented at the next Fifa Council meeting on June 10 in Moscow and Fifa will continue to further develop these proposals together with the main football stakeholders.”
Meanwhile, Ceferin has said that staging future editions of the Champions League final outside Europe in remains an option, but is by no means certain.
Speaking ahead of this year’s final between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Kiev, the Uefa president said: “It is too early to say anything about that. I mentioned it as a theoretical possibility. For now it is just that and let’s see what happens in the future.
“We have to know that the Champions League is a global competition, watched by I think more people outside of Europe than in Europe altogether. So let’s see. I can’t give you a final answer.”
Ceferin acknowledged that ticketing remains a problem with many thousands of Liverpool supporters unable to attend Saturday’s match, and Uefa endeavouring to cancel tickets being sold on the black market.
Real Madrid, the champions for the last two years, have returned 1,000 tickets from their allocation, but, for security reasons, these cannot be redistributed to Liverpool fans.
• Kwesi Nyantakyi, a Fifa council member and the head of the Ghanaian Football Association, has been arrested in his home country on allegations of corruption.
Nyantakyi was due to face further questioning yesterday having been granted bail after being taken into custody and interrogated upon returning to Ghana on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo asked police to investigate the soccer official after he was caught in an undercover documentary promising access to the president and other senior government officials in return for money.Sportcal