— Published 2 August 2023

In Australia, the 2023 World Cup is not for everyone

A paradox. Touted as the biggest ever, with two host countries – Australia and New Zealand – 32 teams and over a million tickets already sold, the 2023 Women’s World Cup is also proving to be the most difficult for viewers to access.

In Australia, in particular, the option chosen by FIFA in its strategy for selling audiovisual rights deprives the public of the vast majority of matches. The World Cup is broadcast, for the most part, by a pay-TV channel.

Unlike last year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar, where all 64 matches were free-to-air, FIFA has sold the rights to the women’s event to mobile phone operator Optus. Under the terms of the agreement signed by the two parties, only 15 matches were handed over to a free channel, Channel Seven, including the national team matches and the final. For the rest, you have to pay a subscription fee.

In Australia, where the 2023 Women’s World Cup has benefited from a vast promotional campaign and has already broken attendance records – 75,784 spectators for the opening match between Australia and Ireland in Sydney – following the tournament on television is proving more complicated, and above all more expensive, than in the rest of the world.

The situation is not unprecedented. For the 2019 World Cup in France, FIFA had already opted for pay-TV. The competition was sold in its entirety to the Canal+ group, with access by subscription. However, by virtue of a rule designed to protect national teams, the free-to-air channel TF1 also offered all of Les Bleues’ matches, and then all matches from the quarter-finals onwards.

Nevertheless, FIFA’s strategy has been criticised as holding back the development of women’s football. Clare Hanlon, Professor of Women in Sport at the University of Victoria, told AFP: “Live viewing of sport helps encourage participation and provide a spark for youngsters. Being on television is also an opportunity to attract sponsors which helps grow the game. The fact that the Women’s World Cup matches are not shown free of charge is a huge missed opportunity.”

When approached by the media, FIFA did not wish to comment on the whys and wherefores of its broadcasting agreement in Australia. But the body defended its existence, explaining in a statement that the two broadcasters, Optus and Channel Seven, had “committed significant resources to cover and promote the tournament, with their combined efforts leading to record audience figures for the Women’s World Cup in the region.”

Operator Optus, for its part, tried to calm viewers’ discontent by assuring them that broadcasting rights were “essential to ensure the growth and equality of women’s sport, from the base of the pyramid to the salaries of national team players”.

No doubt. But its “highest bidder” policy has not generated the resources FIFA was hoping for, despite its tug-of-war with the European broadcasters. According to estimates, the Women’s World Cup should bring in around 300 million dollars in audiovisual rights, which is only one tenth of the revenue from the Men’s World Cup in Qatar.

Several experts agree that the body chaired by Gianni Infantino, which has reserves of $4 billion, could have done without favouring a pay-TV channel in the host country. It has ample means to do so.