David Owen

So, what do you know: 55 minutes into that extraordinary hour-long tormented, angry pre-World Cup vent by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, some hard, or hard-ish, financial information.

It seems worth dwelling on it here, since by that point in proceedings his distinguished 400-strong global media audience had enough material for a dozen stories, and may no longer have been giving world football’s boss their fullest attention.

The information came in three parts.

First, in spite of all the criticism, media rights for Qatar 2022 had fetched around $200 million (£170 million/€195 million) more than the last World Cup.

Second, sponsorship rights had similarly yielded some $200 million more than Russia 2018.

FIFA announced on Sunday (November 20) that it had sold out Qatar 2022-related sponsorship packages.

Third, as far as ticketing and hospitality rights are concerned, Infantino said: "We are at almost $200-300 million (£255 million/€295 million) more than the last World Cup."

So, while the present tournament looks likely to do little to burnish FIFA’s tarnished image, at least in Europe, still the unchallenged epicentre of the world’s biggest sport, at least all is rosy in the Zurich body’s financial rose-garden, right?

Well, let’s consider that, always bearing in mind that these are not audited figures, but guidance offered almost as an afterthought to a rhetorical outpouring that even Infantino’s predecessor Joseph Blatter would have been hard-pressed to match.

Gianni Infantino's pre-tournament media conference made plenty of headlines, but not necessarily for the right reasons ©Getty Images
Gianni Infantino's pre-tournament media conference made plenty of headlines, but not necessarily for the right reasons ©Getty Images

One has to be slightly careful, since FIFA does have other revenue sources and tends not to offer neat, tabulated summaries of how much successive World Cups earn from their various income streams.

However, we do know from the body’s 2018 annual report that Russia 2018 generated $5.36 billion (£4.53 billion/€5.23 billion) of revenue.

Broadcasting rights for the cycle brought in $3.13 billion (£2.65 billion/€3.05 billion), with that World Cup said to have contributed 95 per cent of the total, so about $2.97 billion (£2.51 billion/€2.9 billion).

The $200 million jump alluded to by Infantino would then amount to around 6.7 per cent growth - not bad, especially as this year’s tournament is at an unusual time of year and somewhat more condensed than usual, but far from earth-shattering.

It looks like the fastest Qatar 2022-related growth will be down to ticketing and hospitality.

This was put at $689 million (£583 million/€672.5 million) four years ago, so the top of the FIFA President’s $200-$300 million range would equate to an improvement of some 43.5 per cent.

Even the bottom of the range would amount to a 29 per cent advance.

Then again, growth from this revenue source was relatively sluggish between 2014 and 2018, with Brazil 2014 seemingly generating $185 million (£156.5 million/€180.5 million) from hospitality and $476.6 million (£403 million/€465 million) from ticketing, so a stronger performance this time around was probably to be expected, especially given the reservoirs of wealth in the Gulf region.

As for sponsorship, this has been really in the doldrums in the wake of the tumultuous and reputation-shredding end of the Blatter era.

Marketing generated $1.66 billion (£1.4 billion/€1.62 billion) of revenue in 2015-2018, the last completed World Cup cycle, barely changed from the $1.63 billion (£1.38 billion/€1.59 billion) earned in 2011-2014.

FIFA still has ground to make up if it is to match UEFA's revenue, analysis by our columnist has found ©Getty Images
FIFA still has ground to make up if it is to match UEFA's revenue, analysis by our columnist has found ©Getty Images

So a $200 million jump - a 12 per cent gain - seems at least mildly encouraging.

Set against the growth in sponsorship revenue attained by the International Olympic Committee, the other sports mega-event owner, in recent times, however, FIFA’s record looks less than impressive, especially when the 2011-2014 cycle is taken into account.

Another benchmark for FIFA’s performance is the rate of growth attained by UEFA, the European football body, whose exposure to the glitzy elite club game is far greater.

Breaking down UEFA’s record over the past 12 financial years for which numbers are available into three stretches of four years, for purposes of comparability, its aggregate revenues have more than doubled, from €7.27 billion (£6.3 billion/$7.44 billion) for 2009/2010 to 2012/2013 to €15.41 billion (£13.35 billion/$15.78 billion) for 2017/2018 to 2020/2021.

Its revenue for 2020/2021 alone reached €5.72 billion (£4.95 billion/$5.86 billion).

Over a slightly different span, FIFA’s quadrennial revenue has climbed from $5.72 billion (£4.9 billion/€5.64 billion) in 2011-2014 to $6.42 billion (£5.43 billion/€6.27 billion) in 2015-2018 to something like $7.5 billion (£6.35 billion/€7.32 billion) in 2019-2022, if a tweet from a usually ultra-reliable New York Times journalist is to be believed.

That amounts to a heck of a lot more than any other Summer Olympic International Sports Federation, but it would still be only about 31 per cent growth over the two cycles, versus just under 112 per cent for UEFA.

The conclusion Infantino drew after revealing the new FIFA figures was that "if so many people around the world are investing so much money in the World Cup in Qatar, they invest because they believe in FIFA.

"They saw what FIFA has done to clean up the organisation, to make progress in the football areas and also in the social field.

"And also because they trust Qatar: they know that they can come here, they know they can enjoy, they can celebrate and that they can expect a great World Cup."

The FIFA President went on: "Either all these people are stupid, or somebody of those who say that nobody will watch this or nobody cares about this World Cup might be a little bit wrong, as some of the polls in some elections in some countries were wrong as well."

Top-level competitive football sells like few other things in sport - we know that.

But a prospective 31 per cent rate of top-line growth for FIFA across two cycles against 112 per cent for another body which benefits from the skills of many of the same stars.

That is quite a performance gap.

There is still, it seems, ground to make up for FIFA.