The Winter World Cup; a football fans perspective
February 2, 2023
Believe it or not, we are closing in on 50 days since the FIFA World Cup came to a dramatic climax at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar. We’re definitely not the first to talk about it, but as we look back on the tournament it’s fair to say that it was a memorable one for the legacy of the game and for so many reasons away from the pitch…
Held in the Northern Hemisphere winter for the first time, the tournament brought domestic season’s all over the world to a halt. From the controversy surrounding the awarding of the tournament to Qatar right up to Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez’s antics after the final whistle, Qatar 2022 was never short of talking points.
This tournament pulled in the highest number of viewers ever, a cool 5.4 billion, with the final alone pulling in 1.5 billion viewers according to FIFA.
Qatar 2022 has been all about milestones and records; standouts include:
- Three matches at Lusail Stadium, including the final, saw the highest attendance for a match registered at a FIFA World Cup since USA 1994 when Brazil played Italy in front of 94,194 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
- Qatar 2022 became the highest-scoring men’s FIFA World Cup in history with 172 goals, just beating the previous record of 171, in both 1998 and 2014.
- England vs USA was the most watched mens soccer match in US history.
- At just 18 years and 110 days, Spain’s Gavi became the youngest goal scorer at a World Cup since Pelé in 1958, with a stunning strike during the 7-0 win against Costa Rica.
Despite controversy surrounding the tournament, Qatar 2022 also deserves the acknowledgment of some great achievements in terms of diversity, opportunity and accessibility:
- Stéphanie Frappart became the first woman in the history of the tournament to referee a men’s finals match. She stood alongside assistants Neuza Back and Karen Diaz in the first-ever female trio to officiate a World Cup match.
- In a record breaking first, FIFA+ live-streamed the entire tournament in Brazil, partnering with YouTuber Casimiro and Brazilian legend Ronaldo to deliver an engaging new sports consumption format to a new generation of fans.
- This was the first Men’s FIFA World Cup to offer audio-descriptive commentary for blind and partially sighted fans, with the service being available in English and Arabic.
- Three stadiums hosted sensory rooms for fans with sensory access requirements.
And, perhaps even more so, this tournament was undeniably about two players in particular; one ending in a dream, one ending in tears, but both achieving huge milestones in the World Cup history books:
- Lionel Messi became the first player to score in four successive knockout stage matches in a FIFA World Cup since the round of 16 was introduced into the modern era, at Mexico ‘86.
- Cristiano Ronaldo became the first man to score at five FIFA World Cups (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022)
There is a lot of information to take into consideration when we try to judge the success of Qatar 2022 as a tournament on the world stage. There are also a thousand opinions on the internet from a commercial and environmental perspective so we called upon some of the biggest football devotees we know to give their thoughts from a fans perspective, via a series of quick fire questions. Thanks to Dan (DC), Joe (JM), Ben (BM), and Ellie (ER) from our sports marketing and data partner InCrowd…
What were your expectations before the tournament?
DC – Mixed expectations. I wasn’t sure what we would see from a fan/atmosphere perspective but given that it was mid-season I expected it to be decent quality footie!
JM – I expected a World Cup that felt different, with a slightly higher level of football as we were only a few months into the regular season. I was also apprehensive about how it would go with the controversy throughout the build up, but it was still largely about football after some well thought through and well delivered opening monologues.
BM – This tournament was always going to be a bit of a dice-roll. Having it slap-bang in the middle of the domestic seasons for Europe meant that the players were operating on shorter-than-usual rest before a major tournament, but were less fatigued by the season….. I was uncertain how it might play out…
ER – There was definitely no expectation for there to be as many upsets as there were! When the first two quarter finals went to penalties it definitely got everyone watching and talking about the tournament. It was clear people had reservations about how much they’d follow initially, but once it started…. I mean, it’s the World Cup!
What worked about the tournament?
DC – Thoroughly enjoyed the four fixtures a day for the first two rounds of group games – a superb decision for the international audience.
JM – From what I’ve read, the accessibility of the tournament was well thought out and as someone watching from home, the coverage offered on English TV was excellent. As always the 32-team format worked perfectly – the right amount of teams playing over the right amount of time… I have concerns over the 48-team offering and what that might do for both the broadcast and “on the ground” fan experience.
BM – Perhaps controversial, but I really liked the fact that the officials were adding on realistic amounts of time for each half. For the first few matches it seemed insane but actually, as we became more aware of “adding it up” it was accurate and I found that actually added to excitement! 90 mins arrived, and in some games there was still everything to play for before the final whistle blew 9 minutes later (!!)…
ER – Football brought out the best of people, we saw fans switching camps and genuinely supporting other teams who were having sensational tournaments.
What surprised you?
JM – The amount of shocks that were thrown up. All of my pre-tournament predictions were thrown largely out the window before the end of the group stage. My MLS Qatar Quest Bracket was in such a state; thank goodness we got a second chance at our predictions in the knockout stages! Morocco were a joy to watch as they progressed through the rounds, and I loved how much global fans rallied round their success.
BM – By and large the quality of football on show. I don’t want to keep banging the ‘it was the middle of the season!’ drum but it can’t have been easy performing on that stage.
Should winter tournaments be considered in the future?
DC – I enjoyed it from a novelty perspective and there is certainly an argument for players being fresher etc but as a permanent fixture I’d say it’s a no for me for a multitude of reasons. The disruption to the domestic season, the argument around advantages to certain clubs with less players attending…. ultimately the cons significantly outweigh the pros. I was entertained, but I think engagement from all types of fans would’ve been even higher if we’d stuck to the summer.
JM – I’m a traditionalist, and a voracious domestic/club football fan first, so for me a six-week midweek break is something I could tolerate once, but would not want to become a habit. It would be interesting to hear opinions from the perspective of more casual sports fans, but I missed the sun, beers and BBQs of a Summer World Cup…. and that chance to reconnect with our favourite players and the game we love in between seasons.
ER – Personally, a winter football tournament isn’t really for me. The pressure on leagues, clubs and players to adapt the whole season around tournaments that swap between summer and winter causes too much disruption. The hospitality industry in this country definitely benefited from a considerably needed pre-Christmas boost thanks to the World Cup but achieved less than half of the sales that were projected had this tournament been in the Summer…. and nothing beats watching football in the sunshine.
Was the tournament a success overall?
DC – It’s difficult to detach yourself from the controversy in the build up but in terms of quality of football, outcome and mid-season novelty, it was certainly a success. Also, from a neutral view it seems to have made a decent impact on Qatar itself. However, the legacy for the impact of this World Cup is still being written.
JM – It depends how you define success. It was a decent tournament with plenty of entertaining games and a great final, but there is still so much to consider outside the game.
BM – I think it certainly got people talking and despite all the (fully justified) scepticism, in the end football was the winner.
ER -Notwithstanding the politics, human rights issues and other such things, I’d have to say it was a successful tournament – it ended with the greatest ever men’s player winning his first World Cup in what is most likely to be his last World Cup tournament. Poetic. Ultimately, it was still about the fans and the football.
Was it the best final ever?
DC – Without a doubt. Funny, after all we’ve said in previous answers! Messi lifting the trophy, the new superstar Mbappe showing why he’s ready to take up the Ballon d’Or mantle, great goals, drama to finish 90 minutes and then penalties. It had everything you would want from a final when in reality most finals fall short.
JM – Yes, well, of the ones in my lifetime which I’ve watched for sure. For all the drama which followed Mbappe’s first goal, yes, this was the best World Cup final there’s been.
BM – As a young and relevant 30-year old I’ve only got seven to choose from, however it was an absolute barn-stormer wasn’t it?
ER – Without a doubt. 120 minutes, an Mbappe hat-trick, penalties and a fairytale ending for Messi.
Messi or Ronaldo?
DC – Messi and this has never been close.
JM – If you’ve been watching football since Lionel Messi started playing, you’ll know this isn’t even a question. By an absolute mile, Messi is the best to have ever done it. And he didn’t even need to win a World Cup to “prove” anything, he just did it anyway.
BM – Formerly a card-carrying member of the CR7 fan club I’ve now jumped ship to HM Messi.
Ellie – Messi. Is this even a question?