How the winter World Cup will impact Arsenal

The winter World Cup makes sense for no-one - except FIFA.

The inevitable FIFA backtrack on playing a World Cup during a Qatari summer is now complete.

Arsenal now have to prepare themselves for the huge disruption that a winter World Cup will cause to both Arsenal and European domestic leagues as a whole.

Here’s how it will affect the club.

PLAYER FITNESS

We’ve seen how much a summer World Cup can get in the way of getting players fit and ready for the following season. A lack of pre-season training with the club has affected the way Mesut Ozil has started both seasons with us. Alexis Sanchez is running on fumes after a long summer playing for Chile and then appearing in just about every game for us this season.

Having a major tournament in December 2022 won’t just affect the 2022-23 season.

To make up for the seven weeks lost due the World Cup itself, the Premier League will have to start the season three weeks earlier and end it three weeks later, then make up the rest by getting rid of replays in the FA Cup and the two-legged League Cup semi-final.

The impact of the the longer season will mean less time to rest beforehand, and subsequently less time afterwards as well.

So players are going to be playing a longer season, without a proper pre-season, and will go straight from playing a World Cup into a hectic Christmas schedule, unless that gets postponed too, which would help in the short-term but only push the season into the start of July.

Oh, and the African Cup of Nations is currently scheduled for June 2023. Add that to our injury record and I’m already planning on building a shrine to the gods of perpetual health.

MONEY

“There will be no compensation, there are seven years to reorganise.”

The words of Jerome Valcke, secretary general of FIFA, when asked whether major clubs in Europe will receive extra funds for releasing their players.

Because this is the major issue at hand here; cash.

All clubs in the top divisions during the 2022-23 season stand to lose a shipload of it, thanks to their increasing reliance on TV money.

Last year, 33% of Arsenal’s turnover came from match-day revenue. The figure for TV money is now 41%, and the gap between the two will only grow wider as the new Premier League and Champions League TV deals kick in from 2016 and 2015 respectively (figures taken from the excellent Swiss Ramble).

How much will any TV deal that includes the 2022-23 season be devalued?

Well, here’s an indicator; there is no country in the world who wants to pay for football in December less than America. The last thing FOX needs in the middle of winter is more sport. The NFL is such a ratings monster that almost anything that runs at the same time is widely ignored. Only The Waking Dead gets even close.

FOX paid FIFA $425 million for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup.

They paid that much because in July, there’s no large sporting events in the US or Canada. American football is in its offseason, the basketball and ice hockey finals will have just finished, and baseball will only be half-way through its regular season, and nobody cares about baseball these days until September.

International football in July is worth its weight in gold to FOX but in December? Not nearly as much.

So what did FIFA do to compensate FOX? They gave them the rights to the 2026 World Cup FOR FREE.

That’s right. No tender process. No negotiations with other networks. Nothing.

FIFA just handed the rights over with a big red bow on top of them, just to keep them sweet and out of a courtroom.

Now, FIFA won’t get the same complaints from BBC or ITV.

They’ll pay through the nose for those rights like always, because of how big football is in this country but how happy do you think Sky and BT Sport are right now that they wont have any live football to show for seven weeks during the winter?

Lots of people cancel their subscriptions to both channels during the summer anyway because of the cost, having two long breaks in the season will only encourage more to do this.

This, if we factor in the increased risk of star players missing time due of injuries accrued from playing a compressed schedule, is bound to impact the value of TV rights for a Premier League games package that includes the 2022-23 season negatively.

That, in turn, will mean a drop in revenue for Arsenal, which if FFP rules are still in effect during this period, will directly affect who we can and can’t recruit in the transfer market.

With the prospect of a longer season with more games, it would be prudent for Arsenal to consider having a larger squad than usual for that season, in order to give more players the chance to rest and stay healthy, whilst simultaneously fielding a competitive side. Yet they may actually have to cut back for that year, depending on how much the TV money is reduced.

Yes, the bigger clubs will be somewhat compensated by FIFA for the use of their players, but it’s not enough.

FIFA paid clubs around $70 million for using their players during the 2014 World Cup. Bayern Munich got a mere $1.1 million even though they had 14 players in Brazil.

Arsenal had 13, so we got a similar amount.

This is a huge increase from 2010, when Bayern got $73,000 for Arjen Robben, even though he tore his hamstring during the tournament and missed six months of the following season.

If we estimate that the TV deal decreases by 10% (that doesn’t seem like too big a guess. The value will decrease, but there will always be a bidding war for these rights that will keep the price from sinking significantly)  then that’s a loss of around £15 million if we use the figures from the 2016-19 deal as a template.

That works out at £5 million per season for three years, or to put it another way, £5 million that can’t be used to reduce ticket prices for three years.

SUMMARY

So what’s the prospect for Arsenal?

Well, this can only go one of two ways; either FIFA caves in entirely and pays the major clubs significant amounts of money as compensation for all this disruption and drop in TV revenue, or the clubs decide that they’ve had enough of being controlled by an organisation that doesn’t put their needs first, and attempt to form a breakaway league so that they can keep even more money for themselves.

If you don’t think the latter is possible, there was a time when it was unthinkable that a group of major clubs would decide to breakaway from their Football Association and set up its own league.

Then David Dein and a few other top English club chairmen met in a hotel room in 1992, and the Premier League was born.

Why?

Because the prospect of sharing a mega TV deal amongst 22 clubs instead of 92 was too tempting to pass up on.

Think it can’t happen again?

Major clubs across Europe have already joined together once before, when 18 of them, including Arsenal, made up the G14 group, who spent the years 2000-2008 trying to squeeze more money out of UEFA and FIFA for the usage of their players. They only disbanded after FIFA agreed to increase compensation, on the condition that the G14 ceased to exist.

If FIFA do cave in now, then the clubs will only ask for more, such as less international friendlies, the abolition of the five-day rule, etc.

FIFA knows this, hence the hard line espoused by Valcke earlier.

If they don’t, and the clubs do breakaway from FIFA, and can legally prevent their players from playing in FIFA tournaments, then all the above problems go away.

However, it’ll be bad news for the humble match-going fan.

You think going to a FA Cup quarter final at Manchester United on a Monday is expensive and a pain in the arse? Now swap United for Zenit St.Petersburg for a mid-table game. In February.

No thanks.

It’s not even like it’ll be cheaper to watch them on TV.

Sky paid £4.1 billion for the domestic rights to a league that has 16 teams worse than Arsenal in it. Imagine how much they would pay for a league that had all Arsenal’s big games vs United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea, plus the likes of Bayern, Madrid and Barcelona.

It would be an astronomical amount, and your bill would rise accordingly.

Either way, it looks like football is about to change drastically over the next few years.

It all depends on how much FIFA is determined to save face, over the single biggest cock-up in the history of football.

As the World Cup takes place in a country where being LGBTQ+ is illegal, please also remember that “Qatari authorities have failed to investigate the deaths of thousands of migrant workers over the past decade, despite evidence of links between premature deaths and unsafe working conditions," according to Amnesty International.