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Mena football teams weigh appeal of revamped Club World Cup

Fans of Saudi team Al Hilal at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh. Will Mena football clubs be as enthusiastic about the Club World Cup? Victor Fraile/Power Sport Images/Alamy via Reuters
Fans of Saudi team Al Hilal at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh. Will Mena football clubs be as enthusiastic about the Club World Cup?
  • Exposure can benefit Mena teams
  • 32-team summer tournament in US
  • Sponsorship deals unconfirmed

Football teams from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia will compete alongside the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich at Fifa’s revamped Club World Cup next summer, potentially giving the Mena outfits unprecedented global exposure.

The United States will host the 32-team tournament in June and July 2025. Yet less than a year before the event begins, broadcast and sponsorship deals remain unconfirmed, and doubts persist over the commercial and popular appeal of a competition that is likely to underline Europe’s dominance of the club game.

A previous attempt at a world cup for clubs, the Fifa Club World Championship, first held in Brazil in January 2000, sputtered out.

A relaunched Club World Championship was first held in Japan in December 2005. This has since been hosted 10 times in Arab countries: the UAE in 2009, 2010, 2017 and 2018, Morocco in 2013, 2014 and 2022, Qatar in 2019 and 2020 and Saudi Arabia in 2023.

Now though, Fifa’s president Gianni Infantino has relaunched it as a quadrennial competition, just as Arab soccer is enjoying a golden age.

In 2022 Morocco became the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

The UAE’s Al Ain are reigning Asian club champions, while Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, owned by the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, has won the same competition twice in the past five seasons.

Al Ain and Al Hilal will participate in the US event, as will Egypt’s Al Ahly FC, African champions four times this decade alone. Morocco’s Wydad and Tunisia’s Espérance Sportive de Tunis will also be there.

“For non-European clubs, the event can have a big impact in making them well known and relevant beyond their borders,” said Ricardo Fort, founder of Lisbon’s Sport by Fort Consulting and a former head of sponsorship marketing at Visa.

“We should expect incremental revenues for the clubs just because of the event itself, but in the mid and long term as they get more popular internationally. I’m confident they would benefit from the global exposure provided by the Club World Cup.”

European participants include Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City and Qatar-owned Paris Saint Germain, but illustrious names such as Barcelona and Manchester United will still be absent.

Sixteen of the past 17 winners have been European and the revamped competition will probably be a similar procession, thanks to the financial firepower of the continent’s soccer elite: the 20 biggest clubs by annual revenue are all from Europe, Deloitte estimates.

Fifa’s reformatted Club World Cup is essentially untried and untested in this new format

Simon Chadwick, Skema Business School, Paris

In April, the New York Times reported that Apple was close to concluding a global broadcast deal for the Club World Cup for around $1 billion, only about a quarter of what soccer’s governing body had hoped to raise.

Such an agreement would probably restrict viewership to Apple TV+ subscribers.

That prospect also affects sponsorship packages, which remain unresolved.

Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at the Skema Business School in Paris, said: “Being behind a paywall (would be) a concern for some prospective sponsors.

“For established competitions this isn’t an issue, but Fifa’s reformatted Club World Cup is essentially untried and untested in this new format.”

Fort said sponsorship packages will vary dramatically depending on Fifa’s media strategy.

Gianni Infantino, president of Fifa, congratulating Al Ain of the UAE in May for qualifying for the Fifa Club World Cup 2025

A Fifa spokesperson said: “Generally speaking, Fifa is fully confident and convinced of the commercial and sporting success of the new competition.

“The scale of this opportunity has meant a level of demand in the new Club World Cup such that there are many interested parties when it comes to media and commercial partnerships.”

However, in mid-June, Bloomberg reported that broadcast rights negotiations had stalled. Its report claimed that Fifa was mulling selling these on a regional basis. Fifa has also asked participating clubs whether they would accept a reduced fee, Bloomberg wrote.

Chadwick said: “It’s a new tournament about which there remain questions (and) which has been developed against a backdrop of some club dissent, a cluttered football calendar, and Fifa’s quest to pursue a premium pricing model.

“There are still too many uncertainties, which has led to doubts about the return on investment broadcasters might make.”

Real Madrid earlier this month was forced to reiterate that it would participate after the club’s manager, Carlo Ancelotti, was quoted in an Italian newspaper as saying it would decline the invitation because of the paltry fee offered.

Future editions of the Club World Cup may also be hosted in the US, a popular location for European teams to play warm-up matches before the start of their domestic league seasons.

Chadwick said: “The assumption is that the US remains the world’s largest sports market and is therefore a safe and sustainable commercial bet.

“However, the preoccupation with the US is likely to be of some concern to prospective commercial partners.

“Fifa needs to reach out to other markets and commercial partners to build a model that appeals to non-US constituencies.”

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