FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, has finally secured coverage for the upcoming Women’s World Cup (WWC) across major European markets through an expanded deal with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the alliance of public service broadcasters, ending a months-long standoff with operators in the region.
As part of the EBU’s revised agreement, the tournament will be shown by the BBC and ITV in the UK, ARD and ZDF in Germany, RTVE (Spain), Rai (Italy), and France Télévisions. In addition, coverage in Ukraine will be provided by UA:PBC.
The rights include broadcast across TV, digital, and radio and come after initial discussions were held at FIFA’s headquarters last month (May) involving its president Gianni Infantino, chief business officer Romy Gai, and representatives of the EBU led by director general Noel Curran.
The new arrangement will also see the EBU “provide more promotion to women’s football than ever before.”
Speaking on the deal, Infantino said: “FIFA is delighted to widen the deal with the European Broadcasting Union for the transmission of the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup to include the five major markets within their existing networks, namely France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, as well as Ukraine, thus ensuring maximum exposure for the tournament.
“As part of this agreement, the EBU has committed to working towards broadcasting at least one hour of weekly content dedicated to women’s football on its own digital platform and broadcaster network. This will provide a huge promotional and exposure opportunity for women’s football, which is a top priority for us in line with FIFA’s commitment to the long-term development of the sport.”
With little over a month to go before the tournament starts, concerns were growing that coverage deals were not struck in key European markets.
The respective governments of the aforementioned five countries also weighed in as sports ministers urged broadcasters to secure rights deals for the tournament taking place between July 20 and August 20 in Australia and New Zealand.
Last month, FIFA threatened a blackout of the tournament in those markets, with Infantino describing offers made by media outlets as “disappointing” and “simply not acceptable.”
Infantino said broadcasters in those nations had only offered $1 million to $10 million for the rights to show the showpiece women's tournament compared to $100 million to $200 million for rights to last year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar.
Last October, Gai revealed the organization had rejected multiple bids from European broadcasters for tournament rights, for being too low.
For the 2019 edition, FIFA secured around $300 million in TV rights revenue, while the men’s competition last year generated just under $3 billion.
This is the first WWC for which FIFA has unbundled the rights from those of the men’s tournament, meaning broadcasters had to bid for the event on its own terms. However, it was less commercially attractive than it might have been due to matches being played at unfavorable times for European audiences.
The extended deal with the EBU finally puts an end to the matter and means the tournament will now be broadcast on its free-to-air linear TV network across 34 European territories.
The EBU’s previous agreement with FIFA, announced last October, already covered 28 markets, and included 32 of its members.
Curran said: “We are delighted to have been able to build on our long-term and successful relationship with FIFA to secure the rights on behalf of Europe’s biggest public-service broadcasters.
“The FIFA Women’s World Cup is one of sport’s most exciting and fastest-growing events and we are committed to working hand-in-hand with FIFA to ensure the women’s game is enjoyed by as many people as possible across the continent. We see women’s football as being central to our content strategy and one of the cornerstones of the new digital platform we hope to launch next year.”
FIFA has a long-standing partnership with the EBU and had a similar deal in place for the 2019 Women's World Cup. EBU members reported record audience figures and coverage of that tournament in France.
Domestic rights for the 2023 edition, which will be the first to feature 32 teams, have been snapped up by Optus in Australia, and by Sky in New Zealand, while deals have also been struck in the Netherlands, Poland, the Nordics, and the US.
Earlier this week, FIFA concluded a deal with the regional Pacific Cooperation Broadcasting Limited entity covering the various Pacific islands.
Last week, FIFA announced that ticket sales for this year’s WWC have passed the number sold for France 2019.
Jake Kemp, analyst at GlobalData Sport, commented: "Infantino threatened a potential blackout, but this was surely a bluff on FIFA’s side, as the organization finally gets it right in championing women’s sport. Women’s soccer is riding a wave of popular enthusiasm, with fans and commercial partners finally understanding the potential it holds, so there was surely no way that coverage of the biggest women’s competition would have been blocked in the biggest markets. That would’ve been a clear lose-lose situation for all concerned.
"Previously, the Women's World Cup rights had been bundled into larger deals for the men’s edition, but this wave of enthusiasm for women’s soccer means it is a viable commercial product in its own right. It becomes even more inconceivable that FIFA would ever have enforced a huge blackout across these European markets.
"FIFA’s rationale for threatening the blackout stems from its aim to increase the competition revenue, something which has taken on even greater importance now that it is being sold as a separate entity.
"Ultimately, the correct outcome has prevailed, with women’s soccer now offered the biggest platform to shine yet again and continue its impressive growth."