David Owen

One of the problems with making judgements based on leaked information is that said information may be incomplete.

And so it is with last week's Associated Press report on FIFA's financial performance over the now concluded 2015-2018 cycle.

I have seen nothing in the week or so since the story - sourced to "people with knowledge of the finances" - dropped to suggest it is anything other than accurate.

Frankly, that was not really a concern, given that the bylined reporter, Rob Harris, is one of the most able and diligent on the football beat.

His scoop does raise a number of questions, however.

For example, much is made of the governing body's reserves, which are said to have "soared" to $2.74 billion (£2.08 billion/€2.42 billion).

That is up from a 2017 figure of $930 million (£707 million/€823 million), so a gain of some $1.8 billion (£1.37 billion/€1.6 billion) in the space of a year.

A big jump was to be anticipated: a vast proportion of FIFA's revenue comes from its quadrennial men's World Cup competition, and recent accounting changes have only accentuated the importance of the final - World Cup - year in the organisation's four-year financial cycle.

Yet profit is said to be "around $1 billion" (£760 million/€885 million), raising the question for the casual reader of where the rest of that $1.8 billion (£1.37 billion/€1.6 billion) cascade came from.

Thinking things over, I suspect the most likely explanation is that $1 billion (£760 million/€885 million) is the profit for the overall cycle and that, after taking into account successive losses of $117 million (£89 million/€103.5 million), $391 million (£297 million/€346 million) and $189 million (£143.6 million/€167.3 million), the 2018 profit may have approximated $1.7 billion (£1.29 billion/€1.5 billion).

The development picture, with only $832 million (£632 million/€736 million) of the $1.079 billion (£820 million/€955 million) dedicated to the Forward Programme said to have been approved and committed, may also have had a bearing.

FIFA's reserves are said to have "soared" to $2.74 billion ©Getty Images
FIFA's reserves are said to have "soared" to $2.74 billion ©Getty Images

For a detailed answer, I suppose we will just have to wait until FIFA deigns to make the full financial report public.

The main figure I wanted to focus on though - because it explains so much of FIFA President Gianni Infantino's strategy - is the $6.4 billion (£4.86 billion/€5.66 billion) the governing body is said to have realised in 2015-2018 revenues.

That is not on the face of it a particularly strong result.

Total revenue in 2011-2014 came to $5.72 billion (£4.35 billion/€5.06 billion).

That suggests cycle-on-cycle growth, in what admittedly was a difficult period, of about 12 per cent.

Totting up the figures for Europe's UEFA, I come to aggregate revenue of €7.6 billion (£6.54 billion/$8.59 billion) for 2011-2014 rising to €12.3 billion (£10.6 billion/$13.9 billion) for 2015-2018.

That is equivalent to cycle-on-cycle growth of 61.8 per cent, putting Infantino's former employer in a different, er, league.

Also worth mentioning is the 70 per cent increase in the valuation of domestic broadcasting rights achieved by the Premier League for the three years from 2016-2019.

So FIFA has largely missed elite football's continuing growth story of the past four years.

To make matters worse for Infantino - whose medium- to long-term future probably hinges partly on his ability to pump out hefty increases in development spending - it is not inconceivable that the best years of the football boom may finally be behind us.

Growth in the Premier League's TV rights income looks set to be much less in 2019-2022 than the prior triennium.

And while there are all sorts of good reasons why FIFA's financial projections tend to err very much on the side of caution, its 2019-2022 revenue budget of $6.56 billion (£5 billion/€5.8 billion) is now pitched just $160 million (£121.6 million/€141.6 million), or 2.5 per cent, higher than the figure reported to have been achieved in the cycle just ended.

I would expect this 2019-2022 number to be upgraded at some point.

And yet, the TV viewing figures for Russia 2018 should have set some amber warning-lights flashing in Zurich.

Average live audiences for the quarter-finals, semi-finals, third-place play-off and final were in each case down from Brazil 2014, although corresponding figures for both the group stage and, especially, the round-of-16 were up.

Gianni Infantino is pushing for various expansions with FIFA due for a key meeting in Miami on Friday ©Getty Images
Gianni Infantino is pushing for various expansions with FIFA due for a key meeting in Miami on Friday ©Getty Images

These are for in-home viewing only, so it seems possible that the trends might to a degree reflect evolving, tech-enabled viewing habits.

Then again, Russia 2018 was also said to have produced a 5.1 per cent decline in viewer-hours compared to Brazil 2014 - 34.66 billion versus 36.52 billion. 

The World Cup, of course, remains a phenomenal draw, but uncertainties regarding the next tournament in 2022 are increased because it is being staged in the northern-hemisphere winter, when competition for eyeballs may be all the more intense and seasonal domestic tasks, such as Christmas preparations, will also need to be slotted in to personal schedules.

It should be no surprise at all, in short, that Infantino is pushing expansion on several fronts - a 48-team World Cup; an expanded Club World Cup; a global Nations League - in an apparent attempt to drive revenue by expanding the product on offer.

Notwithstanding his unchallenged candidacy for another four years as President, a crunch period for the man from Brig is looming over the next few weeks and months, starting on Friday (March 15) with the FIFA Council meeting in Miami.

There were times when, for all his high profile, Sepp Blatter, his much-maligned predecessor, appeared curiously bereft of power, usurped by the sport's uniquely powerful confederation leaders.

One may presume that Infantino will want to avoid finding himself in a similar fix.