Financial statements covering 2020 appear to show that FIFA generated more revenue from video gaming than football ©Getty Images

In what is potentially a landmark moment for sport, FIFA appears last year to have generated more revenue from video gaming than from football.

The governing body’s newly-published 2020 financial statements show that $158.9 million (£114.4 million/€133.2 million) of its $266.5 million (£191.9 million/€223.3 million) in total revenue for the year came from licensing rights.

FIFA explained: "A key source of revenue in the licensing rights area was brand licensing for video games.

"In contrast to the many economic sectors that were drastically affected by COVID-19, the video game industry proved far more resilient to the pandemic."

One does not wish entirely to overstate the significance of the moment - 2020 was anything but a typical year - FIFA’s earnings from the 2022 World Cup, the cash cow on which its business model still stands or falls, will dwarf everything else in its four-year business cycle.

Nevertheless, this might very well be the first instance in history of a traditional sports governing body generating more in a year from video games than the underlying physical activity that is its raison d’être.

Judging by current trends, it seems highly unlikely to be the last.

Insidethegames predicted nine months ago that licensing rights could emerge as FIFA’s biggest single revenue source in 2020.

With the pandemic causing widespread disruption to physical football, expenses, as expected, far outstripped revenue, weighing in at $1.04 billion (£748.8 million/€871.5 million).

The coronavirus pandemic has led to licensing rights emerging as FIFA's biggest source of revenue in 2020 ©Getty Images
The coronavirus pandemic has led to licensing rights emerging as FIFA's biggest source of revenue in 2020 ©Getty Images

Of this, $270.5 million (£194.8 million/€226.7 million) was attributable to FIFA’s COVID relief plan, with a further $470.6 million (£338.8 million/€394.4 million) going on development and education.

This all left a hefty $778 million (£560.2 million/€652 million) loss before taxes and financial income, which was nevertheless marginally better than a revised forecast of $794 million (£571.7 million/€665.4 million) published last June.

While still substantial, the new balance-sheet showed that FIFA’s total reserves at 31 December 2020, with almost two years still to go before the next FIFA World Cup, had dipped to $1.88 billion (£1.35 billion/€1.58 billion) from $2.59 billion (£1.86 billion/€2.17 billion) a year earlier.

Further on video gaming, FIFA said: "Besides the FIFA eClub World Cup, the FIFA eChallenger Series and the FIFA eNations StayAndPlay Friendlies, FIFA also successfully launched the FIFA eContinental Cup.

"In addition, 2020 saw the introduction of FIFAe, a new esports tournament brand designed to create a substantial stage for players, clubs and nations."

The growing importance of this licensing revenue to the football body does much to explain why FIFA President Gianni Infantino was chosen, alongside Jean-Christophe Rolland, his World Rowing counterpart, to present a segment on encouraging the development of virtual sports and further engaging with video gaming communities at the recent International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session.

Infantino spoke of "seizing the opportunities of a changing landscape of technology, society and sport", while emphasising how FIFA and other International Federations had "accelerated our investment and focus on virtual forms of our sports to engage with young people."

The FIFA President also underlined on that occasion the "importance of moving quickly now."

These latest figures show that is exactly what FIFA has been doing.