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The legal impact of a 2022 winter World Cup

The hottest topic on the international sporting agenda in recent weeks has been the proposal of staging the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar in winter. Sports lawyer Kevin Carpenter explores the possible legal and economic implications for a number of interested stakeholders.

The rights to broadcast Qatar 2022 were already awarded for the majority of regions back in 2011 for a total of $2 billion. One region is the United States, a broadcast market that has become increasingly lucrative for football in recent years due to the success of the US national team, the growth in popularity of Major League Soccer (MLS), and lucrative broadcasting agreements to show English Premier League (EPL) matches on the main NBC network. 

The US broadcasting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were bought by Fox Network for £265 million. It has been reported that, prior to the recent FIFA executive committee meeting, Fox had voiced its concerns of a winter World Cup with FIFA as it would clash with the National Football League (NFL), in particular the Super Bowl, and undoubtedly impact on viewing figures for World Cup matches. It may be the case that Fox (and potentially other broadcasters) will seek a reduction in the sums paid to FIFA should the tournament be moved.

Key terms of any sponsorship contract for a sporting event are the dates and duration of the event.  FIFA has longstanding commercial relationships with a number of partners, including Emirates, Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Budweiser. Sponsors will achieve maximum exposure during the World Cup principally from the perimeter advertising around the stadiums, which will be shown on television coverage. If broadcasters attempt to renegotiate their deals with FIFA, as mentioned above, sponsors will also be interested in this. There may be warranties in the sponsorship contracts that sponsors could utilise to renegotiate the renewal price for the agreements with FIFA prior to 2022 if the tournament is moved. 

The prospect of Qatar 2022 being moved from the usual summer slot has left all stakeholders, particularly FIFA, between a rock and a hard place. Qatar, to its credit, has said that it bid for the tournament on the basis of a summer date and are happy for it to proceed then. After all, estimates suggest that Qatar will spend approximately £138 billion in total preparing for and hosting the event, about 60 times what South Africa spent on the 2010 World Cup. The cost includes a revolutionary carbon-neutral cooling system for the stadiums, training facilities and fan parks reducing the temperature to around 27 degrees. 

There is an in-between solution where the tournament is moved to April, rather than the winter months. This could minimise the organisational and commercial effect on the tournament. Further, there is some evidence that this is a workable solution as the 1995 Under 20’s World Cup was successfully held in Qatar from April 13-28. 

What is certain is that all affected parties will want to avoid a legal dispute, preferring any such negotiations or changes to take place in private. What is interesting for the global sporting market moving forward is that this will perhaps be the litmus test for other future major sporting events to be held in emerging territories.

Qatar’s capital city Doha bid unsuccessfully for the 2016 and 2020 summer Olympics and said it will continue to bid until they are successful. British Olympic Association chairman Lord Seb Coe is of the opinion that countries like Qatar should be encouraged to bid and host major international sporting events, and that the challenges individual nations face, be that of political, social or climatic nature should be appreciated.

Kevin Carpenter is a commercial, regulatory and sports lawyer at Hill Dickinson LLP.

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