SoftBank Said to Be Sidelined by Soccer Clubs in FIFA's New Cup

(Bloomberg) -- SoftBank Group Corp. has been cut out of plans for a new, lucrative, 24-team soccer tournament after high-profile clubs voiced concern about the Japanese company’s share of the profit, according to people briefed on the matter.

SoftBank was previously set to act as a lead investor, along with an international consortium, in a $25 billion proposal for a new Club World Cup and an international tournament.

However, some clubs were concerned about the amount of profit the Japanese company might have made from the enterprise, said the people briefed on the revamped version, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are private.

After hearing the complaints from the clubs, FIFA, soccer’s governing body, last week put forward a new version of the tournament, which made no mention of any investors. The new tournament is only for club teams and not international ones.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that he hopes to go ahead with the pilot edition of the new competition in June and July 2021.

When asked whether SoftBank has been dropped as a potential investor in the new project, a FIFA spokesman declined to comment. A SoftBank spokesman also declined to comment.

SoftBank and FIFA originally planned to create a new company to stage a series of club and international soccer competitions, according to a person familiar with the project. The project would’ve seen SoftBank and other investors put forward $25 billion to take a minority stake in the Club World Cup and a new tournament involving international teams.

Clubs interested in taking part in the competition had made it clear they didn’t need funds up front to make it attractive, but would be prepared to receive monies at the end of the tournament, as was usual with other competitions, one of the people said.

Another person briefed on the plans said while SoftBank wasn’t playing a key role in the new version, they could be brought back in at a later stage.

SoftBank’s founder Masayoshi Son is known to have a close relationship with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. FIFA’s Infantino has said he would exclude sovereign wealth funds from investing in the project, according to a person familiar with the initial project.

FIFA has given no details on how a new club tournament would be financed, but its World Cup relies on sponsorship, advertising, broadcast rights and match-day income. Infantino is planning to raise money from broadcasters and sponsors.

FIFA said the decision to overhaul the FIFA Club World Cup comes after a consultation process that started in 2016 and involved the FIFA Council, the Football Stakeholders’ Committee, the Organizing Committee for FIFA Competitions, the member associations at the Executive Football Summits, as well as bilateral discussions with professional football stakeholders, FIFA said in a statement.

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