Le Floc’h: Fifa Women’s World Cup sponsorship rights could be unbundled in 2022

  • Women’s World Cup currently has two-tier sponsorship model
  • Global Partner tier includes sponsorship rights to all Fifa events
  • But Women’s World Cup media rights increasingly sold on market-by-market basis

Fifa will decide whether to unbundle the sponsorship rights to the Women’s World Cup from the Men’s World Cup after the 2019- 22 rights cycle, according to Phillippe Le Floc’h, the federation’s chief commercial officer.

Le Floc’h says the new administration, which took over during the Fifa governance crisis, is having to work within the constraints of the partnership model that was decided by the previous leadership team. It will re-evaluate its position after that partnership model expires.

“This is the situation we found when we arrived, and it was carved in stone and committed for until 2022,” he tells SportBusiness. “We have to be respectful of the situation in place and we have had to work with that.

“After [the Fifa Men’s World Cup] in Russia, we did an extensive debrief with our partners and we did a lot of number crunching and now we’re in the phase where we are assessing various models, various structure for the future.”

In the current model, Fifa Partners – the six to eight brands in the top tier of Fifa’s sponsorship programme – are granted sponsorship rights to every Fifa competition, including the Men’s and Women’s World Cup, youth tournaments and lower-tier Futsal and beach football competitions.

The Women’s World Cup then has a second National Supporter tier consisting of domestic partners and suppliers, which is essentially the only opportunity for brands to partner exclusively with the women’s event. Five French companies have filled these slots and Le Floc’h anticipates a sixth National Supporter will be announced next week.

This is different to the three-tier sponsorship programme for the Men’s World Cup, which consists of the same shared Fifa Partner tier, a World Cup Partner tier and finally a Regional Supporter tier. The World Cup Partner tier grants brands the worldwide rights to the Men’s World Cup alone. The third-tier Regional Supporter programme allowed for a maximum of 20 brands to activate around the Confederations Cup and World Cup in five regions: Europe, North/Central America, South America, Africa/Middle East and Asia (four per region).

Le Floc’h joined Fifa from Uefa. (Photo by Getty Images)

Le Floc’h, who previously worked for Uefa where he restructured the European confederation’s commercial arm, says he will monitor the success of Uefa’s decision to position the rights around its women’s football competitions as standalone properties. Uefa’s intention is to completely unbundle both club and national team events, but it is currently in a transition phase where hybrid models apply.

“We know our colleagues at Uefa very well, and we compare notes from time to time,” says Le Floc’h. “Uefa could do something because they also have shorter contracts, so it’s easier for them to change things.”

He thinks Uefa is also helped by having a larger array of club and national team inventory, thanks to the strength of the Champions League and the creation of the Nations League. Fifa’s eagerness to establish a Global Nations League of its own and reformat the Club World Cup becomes easier to comprehend in this context.

“Uefa have a national team model and a club model and we don’t have that,” says Le Floc’h. “Uefa can also put more things into the equation now because they’ve got the Nations League and they’ve got the qualifiers [for the Nations League].”

Should Fifa decide to unbundle the rights to the Women’s World Cup, Le Floc’h says there would be plenty of appetite for the standalone rights and the organisation would work closely with its partners to unpackage them.

“Especially with the profile that the Women’s World Cup is having now, where basically it’s got people’s attention, there’s much more interest in women’s football,” he says. “For those who have contracts beyond 2022 we’ll have to go and explain to them what the new strategy is and work with them in that respect,” he says.

Media-rights strategy

The change of commercial management at Fifa has already seen the federation pivot to a more flexible strategy where the sale of media rights to the Women’s World Cup are concerned. In some markets the competition is bundled together with the Men’s World Cup and other Fifa competitions. In other markets, like the UK and France, where Fifa has deals with the BBC and TF1 respectively, it is sold as a standalone product to capitalise on strong national teams and the growing interest in women’s sport.

The USA’s 5-2 defeat of Japan in the 2015 tournament in Canada had the highest audience ever for a men or women’s football match in the US. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Le Floc’h says Fifa takes an equally pragmatic approach when weighing up whether to work with free-to-air or pay-TV broadcasters: “If you’ve got a free-to-air broadcaster who is only interested in sharing the game delayed after 10.00 pm and only shows a highlight program versus a pay-TV one who’s willing to show the game live and have a repeat on peak time, we may decide to go on pay.”

There was increased competition in France for the media rights to the Women’s World Cup due to the country’s hosting of the 2019 tournament. TF1 paid roughly €10m for the rights to the event – more than 11 times the amount M6 paid for the 2015 edition in Canada.

The BBC paid €1m ($1.1m) for the UK rights to the 2019 tournament, double the amount it paid in 2015 thanks to the more favourable time zone.

In the US, the Men and Women’s World Cup are bundled together for English-language broadcaster Fox and Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo, a legacy of the longer-term deals favoured by the previous Fifa regime. This makes it hard to tell the specific value of the competition’s media rights in one of the biggest markets for women’s football.

Le Floc’h says the popularity of the women’s game in the US is evidenced by the fact that broadcaster Fox will send a bigger delegation to the Women’s World Cup in France than it did to Russia for the men’s event. The company recently released a broadcast plan committing to show 52 matches from the competition live.

Le Floc’h maintains that the United States’ victory over Japan in the Women’s World Cup final in Canada in 2015 continues to hold the record for the biggest audience for any soccer game, men’s or women’s, shown on English-language television in the US. About 25.4 million viewers watched the game on Fox and 1.3 million saw the Spanish-language broadcast on Telemundo.

The appetite for the event in the US has also been reflected in ticket sales for the 2019 event. Before individual tickets went on sale yesterday, the USA was ranked second in the top purchasing countries with 23 per cent of all ticket sales. France is ranked first with 53 per cent of all tickets sold while Holland and the UK are ranked third and fourth with nine per cent and seven per cent respectively.

Fifa revealed that 500,000 tickets had been sold prior to the individual ticket release and that a further 90,000 tickets had been sold the day after these tickets went on sale.

Le Floc’h thinks the favourable time zone and the blend of teams in France give Fifa a strong commercial platform to produce a successful event.

“In [the Men’s World Cup in] Russia we missed Italy, we missed the US, we missed Holland, we missed Chile. We missed Ireland to some extent,” he says of the teams that failed to qualify. “Here, all the big teams are there. It will be an amazing tournament. It should be the biggest and best Women’s World Cup ever.”

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