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Greetings from Doha, where the smallest, most expensive, and weirdest World Cup in history is about to kick-off. Qatar has been hit by unusually hot weather this week, with temperatures well above 30C during the day. Remember, Fifa originally voted to grant the tournament to the Gulf state in summer, when the mercury would have surged above 40C in the daytime, and never dipped below 30C at night.
There is a last minute scramble to complete hotels and temporary accommodation, despite the 12 year run up to Sunday’s opening game. And major World Cup sponsor Budweiser is already having a tough time — with the tournament’s organisers ordering a last minute U-turn on alcohol policy, barring sale of beer around stadiums. We are certainly set for an interesting few weeks.
We’ll be bringing you more on the World Cup today, and throughout the tournament, plus we’re looking back at the increasingly lucrative Formula One season.
Do read on — Josh Noble, sport editor
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When it comes to money, Uefa — not Fifa — is still the undisputed world champion
The World Cup is Fifa’s time to shine, to unite the world with a shared passion for the beautiful game. It could even use the tournament to bring about global peace, according to its president Gianni Infantino.
But really the World Cup is about one thing more than any other: making money. The tournament, held every four years, is Fifa’s big cash generator, with proceeds from the event used to help fund all its other activities.
Broadcasters and sponsors sign on knowing this is the most watched sports competition in the world — Fifa reckons this year’s tournament will attract 5bn viewers, up from 3.5bn four years ago.
The previous World Cup cycle from 2015-18, ending with the tournament in Russia, brought in $5.6bn, according to Fifa’s own figures. That number is likely to grow this time around, with projections landing somewhere north of $6bn once Qatar has wrapped up.
While these numbers might seem big for an event that takes place once every four years and only lasts four weeks, it highlights a major issue facing Fifa. There is quite a hard ceiling on its earnings.
Compare the numbers to those over at Uefa, European football’s governing body. In the four-year period running from 2015-16 to 2018-19, Uefa recorded earnings of over $14bn.
Thanks to demand for rights to show the Champions League, which runs for months and happens every year, Uefa had revenue of €5.7bn in the 2020-21 season alone. With no World Cup, Fifa earned just $766mn last year.
Uefa’s income should rise again this year, and quite sharply, thanks to growing interest in European football from the US. From a financial perspective, Uefa is the powerhouse of international football — not Fifa. Although we should note both trail England’s Premier League, which is expected to earn more than $7bn this season alone.
The income gap is why Fifa has been trying to drum up support for new tournaments. The idea of a World Cup every two years was floated (it quickly sank), while proposals for a World Cup for clubs have also been revived. But Uefa is in a strong position, with the majority of top teams based in Europe as well as the most lucrative broadcast contracts, allowing it to push back against any Fifa plan it doesn’t like the look of.
Uefa’s cash cow is also the target of the European Super League holdouts, who are pushing the European Court of Justice to take action to break up what they see as a monopoly. The court will issue its first response on December 15 — three days before the World Cup final.
For now Uefa’s financial dominance is secure. It has a popular product it can offer in high volume and still charge premium prices. Fifa can only look on with envy.
Formula 1: the never-ending drive to survive
Greetings from Abu Dhabi, where the Formula 1 season is coming to a close. I’m in the media centre at the Yas Marina Circuit, overlooking several yachts. The glitz of this place is a reminder of the riches that have bought the Gulf a central role in the sport.
The expansion into areas such the Middle East and the US is fuelling a resurgence in F1’s finances, with owner Liberty Media finally beginning to see the financial benefits of its 2017 acquisition. Read the FT’s full Special Report on the sport here.
F1’s revenues — mainly from broadcasting, sponsorship and fees from race promoters — totalled $1.8bn in the first nine months of 2022. That’s well ahead of the $1.5bn generated in 2019, the final full year before Covid disrupted the racing series.
Audiences have grown both on TV and at race circuits, as the sport’s revival continues in the wake of the Netflix Drive to Survive documentary credited with bringing in new fans.
At the same time, there are signs that the sport’s new spending limits — capping how much money can be spent on developing cars — are turning racing teams from money pits into investable assets. Mercedes F1, for instance, declared dividends of $55mn for its 2021 financial year, a rare move for any sports team, after annual operating profit increased to £72mn from £17mn.
Even though F1 and the racing teams that make up the league are on a path to greater financial stability, there are potential bumps in the road.
In the US, Liberty Media must balance risk and reward as it takes on the role of promoting the sport’s return to Las Vegas next year after four decades away. Under Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s former supremo, F1 handed the burden of staging races to outside promoters in exchange for a fee. Liberty Media’s willingness to break from the norm will be a critical test in Sin City.
Also next year, F1 will hold four races in the Middle East — Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi. The region is vital to F1 as a business networking platform, particularly given the demand for supercars, but sportswashing accusations persist. Another reminder of the geopolitical exposure came when F1 drivers considered not racing in Jeddah after a Houthi missile attack struck an Aramco distribution facility ahead of the Saudi grand prix this year.
Despite the expanding calendar, with 24 races scheduled for next year, F1 says it is trying to strike the right mix of growth and sustainability. The series is navigating towards a greener future, with a new engine and sustainable fuels in the works for 2026.
And at an event organised by the FT and Motorsport.com at the Abu Dhabi GP, Kate Beavan, a 20-year veteran of the sport and part of the More Than Equal initiative to find the sport’s first female champion, stressed the need to give more opportunities to girls and women, a rallying cry backed by Mohammed ben Sulayem, president of the FIA governing body. Much is riding on F1’s response: a new academy to nurture young women and provide a platform to get them to the top of the sport.
Macroeconomic risks are also pertinent to a sport that travels the globe. Analysts at the Fitch rating agency have also warned that inflation will increase costs for personnel, shipping and its Paddock Club hospitality business.
In other words, the stakes are high and Liberty Media’s job isn’t done yet.
Countdown to Qatar
France enter Qatar as the defending world champions, but since hoisting the trophy in 2018 the French Football Federation has licensed a new youth academy in New York City — the latest in a crowded market for expensive football clubs targeting deep-pocketed parents. For FT Magazine, Scoreboard’s Sara Germano asks will the next Mbappé will come from Brooklyn?
Meanwhile, the FT’s Simon Kuper delivers a pre-tournament assessment of the reigning victors, writing that “the French are not starting the tournament with the confidence of world champions”. Can France shake off complacency and the World Cup winners’ curse?
The FT has additional national team previews of hosts Qatar, perennial favourites Brazil, and of course, England.
With the competition kicking off Sunday, FT readers responded to the question of whether or not to boycott watching this year’s World Cup. We gathered together a selection of the responses.
Several star athletes including American football’s Tom Brady, basketball’s Steph Curry and Shaquille O’Neal, baseball’s Shohei Ohtani and tennis icon Naomi Osaka are among defendants in a class-action lawsuit brought by investors in failed cryptocurrency exchange FTX, alleging that they encouraged participation in a “fraudulent scheme”.
Liberty Media, the owners of Formula One, have announced the company’s intent to spin off its other sports holding — baseball’s Atlanta Braves — into a separate publicly traded entity, pending approval by Major League Baseball.
If you travel a lot for work, you understand the simple joy that comes from having a consistently satisfying meal on the road. Many of us have our staple chains, and for Los Angeles Lakers star (and podcast personality) Patrick Beverley, that chain is Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Unlike many of us, however, Pat Bev estimates he’s dropped a quarter of a million dollars over his career at the US steakhouse joint. The rundown of his order may have you craving for the same — NBA salary unfortunately not included.
Scoreboard is written by Josh Noble, Samuel Agini and Arash Massoudi in London, Sara Germano, James Fontanella-Khan, and Anna Nicolaou in New York, with contributions from the team that produce the Due Diligence newsletter, the FT’s global network of correspondents and data visualisation team