Wimbledon officials admitted that they were caught off guard by FIFA’s scheduling of the World Cup final, a decision that pits soccer’s biggest game against its men’s singles final July 15.
This conflict has implications of increasing proportions, because England could be playing in the championship in Moscow, should the Three Lions win their quarterfinal against Sweden on Saturday and their semifinal Wednesday against the Russia-Croatia winner. The World Cup final is set to begin two hours after the men’s tennis final begins, a decision that Mick Desmond, the All England Club’s commercial and media director, said came after a “dialogue” between FIFA and tennis officials.
“We’ve always known it was going to be there; we knew 18 months ago,” Desmond said. “But I think it’s slightly surprising that FIFA have the kickoff at 4 o’clock [11 a.m. Eastern]. It’s not something they’ve done in the past, but that’s their decision. Our tournament [final] always starts at 2 o’clock [9 a.m. Eastern], and we’ll start at 2 o’clock.”
The average length of the men’s final since 2002 is 2 hours 45 minutes (via the Telegraph), which means there would be significant overlap — not that many people in England would be watching tennis. Viewership of England’s victory over Colombia on Tuesday peaked at 24.2 million during the penalty shootout, which was roughly 81 percent of the people watching TV in the UK, according to the Telegraph. Andy Murray’s 2016 final drew 13.3 million viewers and last year’s final, featuring Roger Federer and Marin Cilic, drew a peak of only 6.4 million.
The BBC already has adjusted its plans, saying the men’s final would appear on BBC One for one hour, then move to BBC Two for the first time in BBC history. The All England Club does not plan to show the soccer match on its grounds, even if England is in the final.
FIFA, of course, isn’t budging, either, saying the match time decision was made more than two years ago based on the global broadcast market and what a spokesman said was the “feasibility for the fans” in attendance and watching on TV.
“I understand now people are waking up [to the conflict],” the spokesman told the Telegraph, “but the decision was already made.”
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