Archive for the ‘sports governance’ Category

Summer sport: when pre-season feels like mid-season

April traditionally marks the start of the summer sporting season in the northern hemisphere: cricket in England, the Masters Golf tournament in the US, the Paris-Roubaix cycling race. Now that so many sports operate all year, the excitement of a new season risks being lost.

The burden of constant competition takes its toll on athletes too. Rafael Nadal had to withdraw from a semi-final match in Miami last week due to injury; England cricketer Stuart Broad may miss the next match in Sri Lanka; and Tiger Woods pulled out of a tournament two weeks ago. All of them want to make sure they are fit for high profile events coming up in the next few weeks.

There are significant debates going on in several sports between competing interest groups about how to manage the calendar (see, for example, FIFA trying to force clubs to release footballers for Olympic competitionNadal resigning from the ATP players’ council due to lack of agreement in changing the ranking system to give players more flexibility in their schedules; and proposals to establish a multi-sport European Games). The federations and leagues in each sport all want access to the best players and to stage events in as many markets as possible but the calendar is crowded.

Sports competitions have proved fairly resilient in tough economic times. Although some lower level tournaments disappeared from the calendar in golf, tennis and other sports, the higher profile events have kept going, even if they have had to cut costs. Quite a few world and continental championships rely on a hefty subsidy from host cities but still manage to attract bids from cities hoping to attract other events in future. Commercial considerations therefore have only a limited restraining effect on the ambitions of federations and leagues.

The disputes about competition calendars tend to involve player unions or representatives, leagues and governing bodies. Leagues and governing bodies often have competing interests (such as the “club v country” debate) and resolve their differences through a power struggle. In individual sports, athletes are probably in a stronger bargaining position to determine how often they compete because they are more difficult to replace. In team sports it is of course possible to solve the problem of player burn-out by having bigger squads. The logical consequence of this is that top European football clubs pay some international standard players vast amounts of money to play a handful of games a season.

As interest in professional sport develops in more and more markets, the pressure on athletes to perform all year round looks set to increase. Clashes between competing competitions (such as the Indian Premier League and English domestic cricket or between Olympic football and pre-season tournaments) will become more common. Unfortunately, athletes will sometimes be forced into making a decision which is not in their best interests: playing when half-fit, or choosing one competition above another due to external pressure. Legal clashes are inevitable.

Athletes in spring training are looking forward to the opportunities of the new season. No doubt the sports lawyers are limbering up too.

FIFA’s huge new TV deals – limited commercial pressure to reform so far

On 27 October FIFA announced new TV deals for 2015-2022 in Australia, Canada and the Caribbean. The way the money is rolling in, FIFA’s leadership must be comforted that the damage to its reputation in recent months seems to be having little financial impact.

Together with the recently concluded USA deal, the combined total for TV contracts so far for the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 plus the other FIFA events is $1.85bn USD. FIFA has also awarded a contract to sell the rights in numerous Asian countries (excluding Japan and Korea) to an agency called Infront Sports and Media. Rights for the still more lucrative European markets have not yet been finalised.

Add in some long-term sponsorship agreements (Heineken has just extended through to 2022) and it is clear that FIFA has already signed contracts which should bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, ten years into the future.

Few organisations of any kind can be so confident about their income for the next ten years, let alone an organisation which has just announced reform plans following serious allegations of corruption.

The plans received a cautious welcome from Transparency International and some other commentators but it will take at least a few months to see how the reforms are progressing. However, the big TV and sponsorship deals followed only days later, no doubt after a lengthy period of negotiation.

There are signs that FIFA is under some pressure from its commercial partners. Several sponsors expressed concern at the allegations involving FIFA in May this year and it’s possible that the private conversations went further than the mild public statements.

In addition, the renewed TV rights contract with Infront Sports and Media has been criticised by Transparency International because the company is headed by the nephew of FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

With the all-important European TV rights for 2018 and 2022 still to be sold and with various sponsorship packages to be negotiated, there is an opportunity for FIFA’s commercial partners to exert some influence.

Understandably, sponsors and broadcasters will be reluctant to do anything which damages their chances of securing a contract because the World Cup draws an enormous audience in many countries around the world.

It will therefore require a careful approach and good leadership but there is a chance for FIFA’s commercial partners to have a positive impact on the governance of football. After all, they pay the bills.