The FIFA International Football Association has become the first sports league to launch an independent streaming video service. The online platform called FIFA+ will offer 40k live games every year, including matches from even the world’s most unserved regions (1).
The service is free and ad-supported at the launch, featuring live games and documentaries. However, it could eventually be a way for FIFA to broadcast the World Cup matches for subscription fees (2).
Besides positioning itself as a rival to existing media companies, the governing body could also use FIFA+ to promote its sponsors.
“There is no plan of imposing a subscription fee for the service. However, it doesn’t mean that we may not evolve if there is a value proposition, allowing us to charge subscriptions if we step into premium rights or adopt any other models,” said Charlotte Burr, FIFA Strategy Director (3). “Regardless, there will always be a free experience on FIFA+.”
Geo-blocking can be used to restrict the viewing of FIFA+ matches to specified regions. FIFA was less clear on whether the site will be an accessible way to watch World Cup qualifiers, which are sometimes unavailable to the general public because each federation can sell the rights and some confederations package them together.
FIFA stated that live matches come from competitions that had hitherto received limited coverage, with 1,400 games being streamed each month at first.
Also, FIFA may relocate its content from YouTube, which it had previously used to broadcast classic matches and sports politics events. Unlike the past FIFA Congresses, FIFA did not webcast its FIFA Congress in Qatar on the long-running video sharing platform.
“We are a little more strategic about what goes where and when,” FIFA Chief Commercial Officer Kay Madati said (4).
Nonetheless, a sports governing body with its independent on-demand service adds a new twist to the streaming war. It could shift the consolidation trend in the industry.
More About FIFA+
The 40k live games on FIFA+ will be from 100 FIFA member associations and include 11k women’s matches. The live coverage will range from Europe’s top leagues to unserved competitions worldwide in men’s, women’s, and youth football.
From the start, 1,400 matches will be live-streamed monthly on FIFA Plus, gradually increasing.
The platform aspires to be home to every women’s and men’s World Cup match ever broadcast, totaling 2,000+ hours of archival video, ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. More than 2,500 videos dating back to the 1950s will be available when FIFA+ launches, with many more to come.
The platform is available worldwide across all web and mobile devices, and it will soon add a range of connected devices. Initially, it was only available in English, German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese editions. However, it plans to add Bahasa, Mandarin, Japanese, Hindi, Korean, Arabic, and Italian editions by June.
“Our focus is on reach; we cannot achieve our business models and development ambitions if we don’t extend our reach,” said Burr.
A key component of FIFA+ is a slate of originals featuring full-length documentaries, shorts, and talk shows, localized into 11 languages, telling stories from locals to national teams and soccer heroes from over 40 nations.
Available titles at the launch include Ronaldinho: The Happiest Man in the World, a documentary featuring a popular player worldwide, Captains, a series following six captains, Luka Modrić from Croatia, Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang from Gabon, Brian Kaltak from Vanuatu, Andre Blake from Jamaica, Thiago Silva from Brazil, and Hassan Maatouk from Lebanon as they lead their countries through qualification for the 2022 world cup, and Croatia: Defining a Nation, about how soccer binds the country (5).
The original slate also includes HD Cutz, a docuseries with the barber to the stars Sheldon Edwards talking about soccer, music, food, and fashion, Dani Crazy Dream, a docuseries following Dani Alves, one of the most adorned players in history, as he tries to qualify for the 2020 world cup, Golden Boot, a series which focuses on the greatest world cup goal scorers.
It also has Icons, a series that highlights five of the most prominent game-changers in women’s games, including Sam Kerr, Carli Lloyd, Asisat Oshoala, Lucy Bronze, and Wendie Renard, and Academies, the inside story of some of the most significant talent production lines in the soccer world.
According to FIFA Officials, active conversations are going on with streamers to build more content for FIFA+ and other platforms.
“FIFA+ indicates the next step in our vision to make football truly global and inclusive. It underpins FIFA’s core mission of developing and expanding football worldwide,” said Gianni Infantino, FIFA President (6).
“This project embodies a cultural shift in how other football fans want to connect and explore the worldwide games. It will accelerate football’s democratization, and we are delighted to share it with fans.”
Netflix and Amazon, two established streaming industry giants, are experiencing greater competition. Legacy entertainment players, such as Peacock, HBO Max, Paramount Plus, and the Disney Plus / Hulu / ESPN Plus package, are now in the game with their subscription services, while Apple TV Plus forays on the margins.
Meanwhile, the emergence of ad-supported free services like Roku Channel and Pluto TV has piqued the interest of Plex, YouTube, and Amazon’s Freevee, who are all vying for a piece of the pie (7).
To win the massive share of subscription fees, on-demand video platforms have long competed with tv networks and each other. With over 221 million paid subscribers at the end of last year, Netflix was in the first place (8), followed by Amazon Prime with over 200 million subscribers.
At present, FIFA earns billions of dollars each year by selling broadcast and licensing rights (9). FIFA+ anticipates having more than 200 million unique users by the end of the year (10), making it a serious rival to Amazon and Netflix.
Other Sports Leagues
Besides FIFA, other sports leagues explore options beyond network and global television.
For instance, the NFL has engaged Netflix in a potential collaboration (11). While Netflix has backed away from live sports, it might collaborate with the league on reality series, documentaries, and other productions. Especially if we consider F1’s success is linked to the film Drive to Survive.
According to the series, the average Grand Prix viewership increased 13% year over year to 70.3 million in 2021. Its total number of followers on social media has also increased by 40% to 49.1 million.
The NFL approached Goldman Sachs last year to recruit partners for its media businesses, which include the NFL Network, NFL RedZone, and NFL.com. It’s also auctioning off the rights to its out-of-market NFL Sunday Ticket package, which could bring in 2.5 billion USD per season (12).
The success of the Formula One series and the ESPN-produced The Last Dance docuseries on Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls has prompted other sports leagues to turn to Netflix for in-depth documentaries.
Netflix and Drive to Survive producer Box to Box are developing a series about the men’s and women’s Grand Slam tennis events and one about the PGA Tour of golf. It is also working on a series on the Tour de France with Box to Box and Quad Productions.
Meanwhile, Reliance, Amazon, Disney, Sony, and other media bigwigs are interested in sponsoring cricket’s India Premier League, whose telecast rights can be worth 5 billion USD or more (13).
The battle for the Indian Premier League, or IPL, a popular event dubbed the Super Bowl of cricket, highlights the competition among streaming companies for eyeballs in the world’s largest consumer market.
The IPL attracted 380 million viewers last year. Whoever gets telecast rights will undoubtedly gain millions of new subscribers in a fiercely competitive market where companies like Netflix Inc. have struggled.
There are also discussions about new entrants (14), including gaming and gambling companies with deep funds interested in making acquisitions.
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What’s Ahead for FIFA+ and the Streaming Industry?
The industry was turned upside down when AT&T and Discovery Inc. collaborated with WarnerMedia to become a media and entertainment behemoth (15). Industry experts speculated bundled streaming apps as the potential solution to consumers’ streaming-choice fatigue (16).
The future of FIFA+ will almost certainly usher in a new era of streaming warfare, potentially determining its outcome. Consolidation could become the new standard if a media conglomerate chose to acquire FIFA+.
In case FIFA rejects such offers, it could indicate that users have the bandwidth for another standalone streaming service, which would encourage more companies to go alone.