POSTED: March 29th 2009

Cashing in at sport's peril . . .

The Olympic Museum: best place for old, flawed contracts / lake images
The Olympic Museum: best place for old, flawed contracts / lake images

KEIR RADNEDGE / Sports Features Communications

TAMPA/LONDON: Risky business, selling television and marketing rights far into the distance – even if the practice has become de rigueur for the likes of FIFA and the IOC.

Sports federations pursue the strategy partly because they can but partly, also, through an element of fear laced maybe with a touch of greed.

Of course the world football federation and the International Olympic Committee must be relieved to see their long-term futures secured with the promise of TV and sponsor revenue guaranteed for a decade or more to come.

But the extent to which they need long-term security evidenced in such stark financial fashion is arguable.

Sporting phenomena

No-one is suggesting that the World Cup and/or the Olympic Games will suddenly lose their popularity. These are supra-sporting, even cultural, phenomena of international significance whose survival is guaranteed not for ever but certainly for decades to come.

Instead long-term, protectionist rights sales generate a suspicion that sports accountants are afraid the ever-accelerating pace of technological change will one day render television exclusivity impossible.

Such a development would rip the financial rug out from under the feet of FIFA and the IOC. Imagine . . . no more five-star hotels and first-class flights for the executive board grandees.

That would be no loss, of course. Could do some of them a lot of good.

Investment risk

Far more serious is the danger to grassroots sports investment which would follow any collapse of the present revenue model – created by FIFA through the perceptive political partnership of president Joao Havelange and Horst Dassler of Adidas in the late 1970s.

Long-term selling carries other dangers, too. Administration and fair play are at risk. Consider the soap opera over the United States Olympic Committee’s over-egged Olympic Games revenue share.

(How was that ever approved in the first place back in 1996? One day the story may emerge and it may not be a pretty one. One may also ponder, both within the IOC and FIFA remits, whether the more affluent a nation the less it should receive, pro rata. More of that, some other day).

Bidding complication

The USOC cash row threatened, despite IOC president Jacques Rogge’s denials, to undermine Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid. But the long-term, set-in-concrete sale of TV and marketing rights means that correcting the contractual imbalance cannot occur before 2020 – some 11 years hence.

Turning an oil tanker around in mid-ocean may take vast amounts of time and space but that is nothing by comparison.

Fair play is not merely a concept for the competitive sports arena; it should also be enacted administratively. Financial strategies which threaten the most important of sporting ethics – both off the field and on it - should be treated with more suspicion and caution in future.

That, perhaps, should be the legacy – most popular word in the bidding lexicon these days – of the USOC affaire.

Keywords · FIFA · IOC · USOC · TV

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