FIFA's supposed plans to stage a World Cup every two years could cost leagues and clubs billions
Former Arsenal manager and current Chief of Global Football Development at FIFA, Arsene Wenger is spearheading a consultation designed to adapt the men's football calendar starting in 2024. One of the most controversial proposals to come out of this thinktank is the idea of a biennial World Cup.
While Wenger himself described a chasm in enthusiasm between younger and older generations, when responding to the uproar brought about by his suggestions, YouGov research commissioned by FIFA itself found that the idea is unpopular across every age group with even 63% of 18-24 year-olds against the introduction of a biennial men's World Cup.
Many stakeholders in the sport find the concept deeply troubling and new research commissioned by domestic leagues has found that Wenger and defenders of this plan might be playing Russian Roulette with the very fabric of the game as we know it.
Opposition to the proposal of holding the World Cup every two years comes from many quarters of the game. European football's governing body UEFA and its president Aleksander Ceferin are understandably concerned and there are even murmurings of a possible boycott of any biennial World Cup by European nations, which would surely make the whole thing untenable as a sporting contest and a financial entity.
Leagues and clubs are also not too fond of the idea. Coaches and players who are already complaining endlessly about fixture congestion will hardly welcome an increase in international games. There are even concerns that this change could affect demand, oversaturating the product and making it less popular in the long run. This is something which is arguably well on the way to happening already with the world bombarded with far too much football. Proposals like this one, were they to be implemented, would only expediate that dip in interest.
Senior Analyst at Enders Analysis, François Godard said holding a biennial World Cup would be very risky. “My worry is that at some point demand collapses. The risk of a sudden dramatic drop is huge if you weaken the main product. If you change to this new model with a World Cup every two years, and games have to be moved from the weekend to midweek ,and you have a shorter overall season, and some players might not be available at some point, you weaken your core product.”
Perhaps the most damning criticism yet came out recently as the results of a study commissioned by some of the world's biggest domestic leagues found that they could stand to lose up to €8billion in revenue as a result of this move. The report focused on the "Big Five" European leagues, MLS in the United States, Liga MX in Mexico, the J1 League in Japan and the South African Premier Division, and found that loss of TV rights, sponsorship deals and other financial ventures could cause a huge loss of overall income for the leagues and clubs in question.
Despite significant opposition to the idea, Wenger, FIFA and various other defenders continue to stand up for it in the press. Like the awarding of World Cups to nations like South Africa and Qatar, this idea is presented as a way of bringing football to the masses, a caring gesture designed to give every nation in the world the chance to dream of playing at a World Cup.
FIFA have already brought this dream a little closer by increasing the number of nations at World Cups, starting at the 2026 edition which is set to be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico, from 32 nations to 48. On top of that, Wenger and co believe that by staging these tournaments every two years they can push that agenda of inclusion even further without damaging the product. The result will probably be overkill for many fans and a probable dip in viewing figures across the board.
The proposals are welcomed by the smaller nations who rarely, if ever, qualify for a major international tournament, but it's not only those federations and FIFA who see the positives. Noël Le Graët, President of the French Football Federation told L'Équipe that he isn't opposed to the idea: “I have no opposition to a World Cup every two years, even if I want to take a closer look. It would be a mistake not to look at this project closely.”
Despite best PR efforts, even the least cynical observer of this situation could suggest that this is merely a cash grab on the part of FIFA. World football's governing body makes the bulk of its income during World Cup years, they usually take a loss every other year. By doubling the frequency of the tournaments, they'll double their money.
UEFA don't have that problem as, while they also have a four-yearly international spectacle in the shape of the Euros, they don't solely rely on this for financial gain. They host the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and now even Europa Conference League every year and benefit from the huge amount of interest and money which these competitions generate. FIFA, on the other hand, have the Club World Cup, which is an insignificant footnote in the football calendar.
It's understandable why world football's governing body would want to increase its revenues but in the eyes of many associations, leagues, clubs and professionals in the industry, this just isn't the way to go about it.
Whether or not these proposals will ever become a reality is hard to say yet, but if they do come into fruition they would certainly create a seismic shift in how football is played and consumed on a global level.
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