Too much football risks burnout for fans and broadcasters

Think of Joe Aribo. In the 2021-22 football season, the midfielder played 70 official matches. Of these, 57 were for his club at the time, Glasgow Rangers, and 13 in the green jersey of the Nigerian national team. He spent more than 5,500 minutes on the pitch, according to Transfermarkt.

Aribo is just one of many players at the forefront of giving broadcasters more content to sell. England captain Harry Kane stepped onto the pitch 52 times last season, while Brazil’s Vinicius Junior and Real Madrid played 53 matches. Coaches complain of exhaustion and the risk of serious injury from playing too much.

But as broadcast rights owners take full advantage of football’s growing global fan base, the approach taken by Fifa and Uefa, which organize the international and European games respectively, is simple: more is more. .

European club competitions will expand from 2024, with the number of teams qualifying for the lucrative Champions League rising from 32 to 36, totaling 64 matches.

FIFA is doing the same thing with the World Cup, by far its biggest source of money. The competition organized in 2026 by the US, Canada and Mexico will start with 48 teams, instead of the 32 that will start next month in Qatar. FIFA has also toyed with holding the competition every two years instead of four, and wants a piece of the club’s game too.

Growing demands from players and spectators are fueling an argument put forward this week by those still involved in the European Super League, a stalled project to establish a breakaway league for elite teams, that there is too much football and more to the point, too much boring football. that nobody cares.

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In a speech last Sunday, the president of Real Madrid, Florentino Pérez, promoter of the ESL, defended that this overload is alienating fans and lowering the commercial value of the most popular sport in the world, “increasing the number of inconsequential matches in to the detriment of the sport itself, the players and the general interest”.

He has a point. The two sports that dominate when it comes to streaming value per game, the NFL and Indian Premier League cricket, have made scarcity and consequence the cornerstones of their appeal.

The NFL season consists of 272 games in total, but generates $10 billion a year in national broadcast revenue. The Indian Premier League tournament has only 74 matches per season, but this year it was able to sell its rights for more than $1.2 billion a year at auction.

The contrast with football is marked. The English Premier League needs to put on about 800 games, or two years’ worth, to match the annual revenue of the NFL. Meanwhile, the total number of games in Europe’s top five leagues and competitions across the continent exceeds 2,000, and that’s before the domestic cups and the women’s game, which is increasingly becoming mainstream. .

Not all parties are the same. Under the terms of its recent UK broadcast deal with Uefa, Amazon will pay almost £9m per match to show 17 Champions League games in prime time on Tuesday night, starting 2024. That compares with less than £600,000 per match under the BT Sport deal. for the remaining 533 European club matches during the same period. Nor does higher volume equate to higher value. Overall, BT will pay £305m a year to show these matches, compared to £400m a year for just over 400 games under its latest broadcast deal.

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In the meantime, customers must continue to pay more to stay in the game. A UK football fan keen to follow his team at home and in Europe now needs a subscription to Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon, totaling around £800 a year – a tough sell when energy bills and mortgage payments are through the roof.

With even more soccer on the way for broadcasters and consumers alike, it’s not just players like Aribo who are at risk of serious fatigue.

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