FIFA – Glorifying the Game or Rotting the World’s Biggest Sport?

Is FIFA, the governing organization for the world of Football (real Football, that is), true to its mission? A look into the works of a non-profit.


FIFA, or Fédération Internationale de Football Association, is a non-profit organization based in Zurich, Switzerland, acting as the governing body of Football (AKA Soccer) associations worldwide. Established in 1904 by seven Football associations in mainland Europe, the organization grew to the mesmerizing number of 209 member Football associations worldwide by 2015[i]. For comparison, the United Nations has no more than 193 member states[ii].

While a non-profit organization is not an automatic choice for a challenge concentrated on alignment of business and operational models, as soon as one gets a sneak peek into this organization’s numbers… this is a whole different story.

Source: Statista

For the Game. For the World.

The three pillars of FIFA’s mission are:

  • Develop the Game – Providing infrastructure and professional resources to allow the continued growth of the game of Football worldwide, and Protecting the game by fighting doping, and discrimination.
  • Touch the World – Amplifying the passion for Football across the world through organizing 15 different tournaments[iii], chief of which is the Coupe du Monde (AKA the FIFA World Cup).
  • Build a Better Future – Football for Hope, a fund aimed at supporting global initiative that are using Football as an instrument to bridge social and cultural gaps.

The FIFA World Cup, competing neck to neck with the Olympics as the most anticipated and watched sporting event in the world[iv], is the organization’s main revenue driver, directly accounting for over 84% of the organization’s revenue. Considering the World Cup is held only once every four years, the organization provides a consolidated financial report for the four year period ending with the world cup[v]. We’ll analyze the reports to get a better understanding of the organization’s operations.

Source: FIFA Financial Report 2011-2014

Monetizing on the Passion

Football is, by far, the most popular sport in the world, and FIFA has been perfecting its ability to capture and transform the value of this enormous asset.

The organization’s revenue stream sources from (1) Event-related revenue which stands for (90%) of the total, (2) Financial income (5%) that origins from investment of its assets, and (3) other operating income, mostly sourcing from FIFA brand licensing.

Breaking down the event-related revenue, we can see FIFA leveraging its assets at full swing. It has been able to draw $2.484B from the sale of television rights (the World Cup accounts for 98% of that). The second revenue component is marketing rights on which FIFA has been able to considerably monetize over time. While marketing rights, meaning allowing “partners” to advertise during the World Cup and other events, stand for $1.629B in total, again the World Cup is the leading driver as it accounts for roughly 97%. In order to increase its ability to monetize on marketing, FIFA has separated advertisers into three categories: (1) FIFA Partners, which are the major FIFA sponsors year round, (2) FIFA World Cup Sponsors, allowed to use the event globally as part of their advertising campaigns, and (3) National Supporters, local companies from the hosting country. This split allows further realization of the great commercial asset that is the World Cup.

Source: FIFA Financial Report 2011-2014

True to Its Cause?

While FIFA has obviously been able to reel in the big dough by utilizing its assets (by “Touching the World”), the question arises with regard to the level to which it conforms to its stated missions of “Developing the Game” and “Building a Better Future”. For that we should look at the expenses side of the income statement.

Reviewing it, we can see that FIFA invests 72% of its expenses (which amount to a total of 94% of its revenue) back into its defined missions, 52% into event related expenses (i.e. “Touch the World”), and 20% into development-related expenses, such as financial assistance to Football associations worldwide, training programs, and social initiatives through sports. The remaining 28% are spent mostly on operating activities and general expenditures.

On paper, this looks like a success. Extremely strong product, well monetized, and the majority of revenues reinvested into this non-profit’s objectives.

So Why So Serious..?

Years long corruption rumors surrounding FIFA have recently erupted; with the sketchy Qatar bid win to host the 2022 World Cup lead to the arrest of 30 people, including two FIFA vice-presidents; and the recent suspension of FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, who is under investigation over bribe payments[vi]. These recent events raise considerable doubts with regard to the manner the organization is managing its funds and operational objectives.









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Student comments on FIFA – Glorifying the Game or Rotting the World’s Biggest Sport?

  1. Amazing video!! 🙂

  2. Thanks for the interesting post! Having been following the news on FIFA, I found your post very helpful for me to better understand the situation. I am personally skeptical about FIFA’s non-profit nature. To me, it provides covers for FIFA from better scrutiny from public, and therefore leads to the recent scandals.

    1. Hi Hoachen,

      I completely understand your reservations about FIFA’s non-profit nature. I felt exactly the same going into this post and then I started reading some more. I believe FIFA is a non-profit by nature and think that it did have a considerable positive effect on the world of Football and assisted weaker communities to establish Football which provides many kids around the world with a mission and something to hope for, and furthermore, with a pass time that can keep them away from less desirable endeavors.

      That said, I believe there are quite a few (not to say plenty..) of rotten apples in this organization. Due to lack of regulations, or any real jurisdiction over it by external factors, these people at the helm have taken advantage on this very lucrative segment and stuffed their own pockets. I hope that now that it is being scrutinized, it’ll be much more focused on the good rather than the sketchy…

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Interesting post Gil!

    The fact that the World Cup will take place in December (first time it does not happen in June/July) due to the climate conditions of the host country may have some consequences. In the first place it is going to disrupt most of the domestic leagues and other major football competitions (i.e. Champions League). Moreover, it is also going to impact the World Cup itself, apart from the time of the year it will celebrate, its length will also be affected (reduced to only 28 days). After reading in your post that 90% of its revenue comes from event organization, I am wondering whether FIFA is taking high risk in organizing this World Cup.

  4. This is really interesting post Gil! John Oliver’s video makes more interesting. Looking at the model, it raises couple of questions:
    1) Unless I missed something or misunderstood, although FIFA claims its non-profit but if we look revenue minus cost, it seems they are making profits. This raises question whether are they really non-profit organization?
    2) Also after Qatar bid scandal and how corrupt FIFA is (John Oliver’s comment in his video), above question exemplifies. To the best of my knowledge, FIFA is still going forward with Qatar as world cup venue. Do you think FIFA is still on its mission of being “non-profit”?
    3) One of FIFA’s mission is “Build a better future” – Is this coming at the cost of number of employees who lost their lives and miserable lifestyles in Qatar while “working” for FIFA?

  5. Great post. As a passionate fan of the sport, it still worries me that FIFA has a reserve in excess of $2bn that could be used for essential development projects right now. Any truly non-profit organization could never justify that to its stakeholders. This links with some of the other comments.

    On the one hand, it must be extremely difficult to scale operations in line with the exponential growth in revenues, which has come in particular from TV broadcasting rights. Perhaps they’re doing as much as they can. But to me, and as you mention, the plethora of scandals have exposed some massive holes in the operating model. In particular, the archaic organizational structures, shady processes (such as voting on the World Cup, and voting for the President) and really weak subsidiaries (regional football federations) distance the organization from its true shareholders – the fans.

    For far too long it was a gentleman’s club that wasn’t really accountable to anyone – it lacked a business model – and this fostered corrupt operations. They’ve now redefined their business model, but it has been far more difficult to change their operating model accordingly.

  6. Very interesting post Gil! I totally understand and share the reservations mentioned above.

    – Although it is a non profit organization, I just wondered how they measure the success of their development related initiatives. It seems like they are investing a lot of money on them, but what about the returns? Do this initiatives/programs really reinforce FIFA’s mission?

    – I will also do some research on what measures FIFA is currently taking to fight with corruption, which clearly ruined their reputation all over the world

    – I also think there might be an untapped opportunity for them in brand licensing related revenues. The number seems quite low to me. They can actually make more money in this area and invest it in their reputation management related initiatives going forward.

    Thank you again!

  7. Great article Gil! Really interesting.
    I wonder if ‘corruption’ was always part of the underground operating model of FIFA. If not, it is interesting to know when corruption hit the big bosses of the game. For big organizations with little scrutiny, people who hold power find easy opportunities to get personal gains.
    Many of us will work in big organizations some day. It would be interesting to know how to identify red flags in our organization, especially when someone is following corrupt practices. I wonder if some external stakeholders identified some red flags in order to implement measures on time. Identifying red flags and acting accordingly can be the difference between long-term sustainability and a big scandal of corruption.

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