Will the new World Cup format be a hit?
As the soccer world digests FIFA's decision to expand the World Cup, here's a look at the some of the benefits and pitfalls of a 48-team tournament in 2026.
More matches for fans, but quality of play may be an issue
As the soccer world digests FIFA's decision to expand the World Cup, here's a look at the some of the benefits and pitfalls of a 48-team tournament in 2026:
- With 16 more teams joining the World Cup party, feel-good stories should keep flowing in soccer. Just look at Costa Rica's run to the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals and Wales reaching the European Championship semifinals in 2016. FIFA President Gianni Infantino believes this generates "football fever" far beyond the host nation(s).
- With 16 additional games, there's more soccer for fans to watch in stadiums and on television, generating additional cash for FIFA. For broadcasters, there are 24 extra broadcast slots, not just 16, because there will no longer be final rounds of group games kicking off simultaneously.
- FIFA estimates its commercial income will climb 20 per cent, and raise profits by $640 million US compared to the equivalent rates for the $5.5 billion 2018 World Cup. This would help guarantee the $5 million grants from each World Cup for each of the 211 FIFA member federations, and create extra for development projects.
- The 80 games can be squeezed into 32 days, the current length of the 32-team World Cup, according to FIFA. The individual players' workload won't increase as the four semifinal teams will still play a maximum of seven matches.
- There will be no rest day for players or fans until the quarterfinals. And there's a grueling rate of four games per day — up from the current three — for each of the first 16 days, including a new round of 32.
- There could be fewer top quality matches. FIFA acknowledged that higher-ranked teams will meet less often in the 48-game group stage, leading to a tournament of lower "absolute quality" than the popular 32-team format used since 1998.
- A group stage allowing too many teams to advance reduces the drama. The 16 three-team groups would be tenser if only the group winner advances. Two will go through, creating a new round of 32 where the excitement should ramp up.
- With more teams making it to the World Cup, qualifying could be devalued, particularly in the Americas. There will be less uncertainty about whether the big teams in CONMEBOL and CONCACAF could miss out on the World Cup, so matches will be less captivating for fans considering watching qualifiers on television or in stadiums.
- FIFA expects World Cup profits to rise $640 million but European clubs will want a bigger share of the increased revenues. Currently $209 million per tournament is distributed under a European Club Association deal with FIFA.