The FIFA World Cup attracted the largest revenues and audiences of any sporting event other than the Olympics. Countries vied to host the men's football finals every four years, which showcased 32 national winners of regional playoffs. In December 2010 when Qatar won the bid for the 2022 finals, it was the first country in the Middle East and the smallest host country.
Qatar was a peninsula in the Persian Gulf, smaller than the state of Connecticut. Its extensive fields of oil and natural gas had brought great wealth to its citizens. The country desired a larger role on the world stage, as it sought security relative to larger and even wealthier neighbor states. Organizers believed hosting the 2022 games would raise international awareness of the country.
The stakes were high. The World Cup was a great source of visibility as well as revenue for FIFA, the international governing body of the sport. For advertisers and media outlets, the competition provided a worldwide audience of billions of sports fans around the world, an audience they were eager to engage.
Controversy had dogged Qatar’s successful bid. Many claimed that FIFA's procedures granting Qatar's bid had been flawed. How could a small desert country manage an influx of athletes and tourists?
Construction of the competition venues added negative attention. Reports alleged that the foreign-national workers building the stadiums, hotels, and infrastructure were being mistreated. Qatar had changed its labor laws, but could it monitor the construction companies? Construction in the desert raised environmental concerns. What was the point of building enormous stadiums that would probably fall into disuse after the end of the games? What about the energy needed to build and run the facilities?
Advertisers and media outlets also faced risks. How would the choice of location affect the World Cup's role as a major advertising platform? How could companies leverage sponsorships to build their brands? Could a poorly conceived or run competition hurt the companies spending considerable sums to sponsor it?
Ultimately, the biggest risk was being taken by the nation of Qatar. Would the World Cup affect Qatar's standing in geopolitics? Would the huge expenditure pay off? Could negative attention attending the preparations outweigh any positive boost?
The coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 added to the risk. Playoff game schedules were upended. By 2022, would people be ready to travel long distances to attend mass events?
Publication Date: April 6, 2020
Citation: Jean Rosenthal, Jaan Elias, Mushfiq Mobarak, Ravi Dhar, and Nathan Novemsky, Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022, Yale SOM Case, 20-013, April 6, 2020.