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TV Sports Defies Gravity, Heat And Friction

The transcendent advantage of live events, and competition for them, has the complete and full attention of television broadcasters. This means, for most broadcasters, sports. Acquiring rights to the biggest events is evermore costly as is the expense of maximising every produced second. The thrill of the unexpected, surprising and even shocking attract huge audiences to live sports, perhaps more than victories and defeats. It is a television broadcaster's major prize.

balloonWhen FIFA officials admitted the obvious and suggested the Qatar 2022 World Cup will be held in November and December rather than June and July TV rights holders looked for the proverbial silver lining. The planning cycle for producing a live event meant to appear unpredictable is long and arduous. Qatari officials tried, once or twice, to convince teams, coaches, fans, sports journalists, sponsors and inevitably FIFA lawyers that 40C temperatures (over 100F) wouldn't turn the beautiful game into a sweltering tournament. After all, the entire oil-rich country could be air-conditioned. The official decision will come in mid-March.

Public broadcasting networks ARD and ZDF have German TV rights to the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Shifting from summer broadcasts to winter will require rearranging schedules. "This is exactly the period when we begin moving to winter sports," said ZDF sports director Dieter Gruschwitz to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (February 24). "This doesn't change our (rights) agreement." The final match, tentatively, will be held December 23rd, just ahead of Christmas.

"Much can change in the seven years before the event," said ARD sports coordinator Axel Balkausky. The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will be, so far, a summer event.

Less moaning came from US network Fox, US rights holder for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. Fox, owned by 21st Century Fox, is a major broadcaster of US football, far more lucrative than the FIFA brand and deep into its season during the winter months, as are NBA basketball and NHL hockey. It seems FIFA awarded Fox and Telemundo no-bid rights to the 2026 World Cup earlier in February. The "hasty" deal, admitted FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke to the New York Times (February 26), was struck to prevent a potential lawsuit over lost revenues. Rivals ESPN and Univision, however, were quite upset.

Media advertising in the UK could see a bonus up to £12 million from moving Qatar 2022 World Cup from summer to winter, said media buyer ZenithOptimedia in a smiley face statement, quoted by The Drum (February 25). "Demand from advertisers will also increase as the last quarter of the year is the most important for most advertisers, as consumers prepare for Christmas, and airtime prices are significantly higher in winter than they are in summer." The BBC and ITV will jointly present the Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 World Cup on television, radio and online.

A winter schedule for the Qatar 2022 World Cup would force a frenzy of football in the UK, the folly of forecasting at this distance notwithstanding. Television rights for the English Premier League through the 2018 season was recently acquired by Sky Sport, principally controlled by 21st Century Fox, and BT Sport, owned by telecom BT Group, for an astounding £5.1 billion, a 70% increase over fees under the previous three year deal. Pay-TV operators, like Sky (formerly known as BSkyB), and telecoms, like BT, have bid sports rights into a stratosphere where only the very rich can breath.

English Premier League broadcast rights holders, perhaps Sky Sport and BT Sport if the current deal is extended, would be competing with the World Cup for football fan eyeballs during prime pre-Christmas TV time. While it is impossible to project, it's likely more than a few Premier League stars will participate in one or more national teams for the World Cup. The Premier League season typically runs from mid-August through the end of May. FIFA executives have already indicated an unwillingness to increase compensation to leagues for World Cup participating footballers.

The Brazil 2014 World Cup final match between Germany and Argentina drew over a billion viewers. Keeping a perspective, the ICC World Cup cricket final February 15th between India and Pakistan also drew more than a billion viewers worldwide. The hyper-produced US NFL Super Bowl attracted a "mere 112 million viewers," noted the New York Times (January 30). They only look like games.

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