FIFA on Thursday announced it has extended Fox Sports and Telemundo's U.S. World Cup TV rights through 2026 in an arrangement that effectively boxed out all other competitive sports outlets.
International soccer's governing body this afternoon issued a brief statement, confirming that the extension gives Fox the exclusive U.S. English-language rights to a host of events that includes the 2023 Women's World Cup and the 2026 FIFA World Cup. NBCUniversal's Telemundo in turn has extended its Spanish-language rights through the same span.
The deal also includes men's and women's under-20 and under-17 tournaments.
"These agreements guarantee wide distribution for FIFA tournaments," said FIFA director of TV Niclas Ericson. "Together, we will be able to promote [soccer] in North America and build on the impressive interest shown by audiences…during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
No other sports networks were offered a chance to bid on the package. Financial terms were not disclosed.
While rival networks did not comment on the matter, it would appear that FIFA may have offered the extension to its new partners as a sort of pre-emptive conciliatory gesture for the 2022 World Cup that is already shaping up to be a logistical nightmare. It's set to kick off in Qatar, where July temperatures average around 106°F. (FIFA is said to be leaning toward rescheduling the month-long event to a less combustible time of year. Trouble is, a winter Cup could simultaneously interfere with Fox's flagship NFL broadcasts and the English Premier League.)
Fox spirited away the World Cup from legacy rights holder ESPN back in October 2011, paying some $425 million for a package that includes all major FIFA events spanning the years 2015 through 2022. Fox's first foray into all things FIFA begins Saturday, June 6, when the 2015 Women's World Cup kicks off in Edmonton.
Shortly after FIFA issued its rather terse press release, Fox followed suit with a statement of its own. "We are truly honored that FIFA has elected to extend Fox Sports' rights to the portfolio of FIFA events…through 2026," a spokesman said. "These events are some of the world's most important sports competitions, and it is our privilege to be entrusted with these rights in the United States."
Telemundo in 2011 yanked the rug from out under incumbent Spanish-language rights holder Univision, bidding a whopping $600 million for its eight-year deal.
So is a sport that by its very nature limits the number of in-game commercial opportunities worth the massive investment? ESPN certainly thought so during its stewardship of the World Cup, and the Nielsen ratings corroborated its enthusiasm. On June 22 of last year, ESPN's coverage of the USA v. Portugal group stage match delivered 18.2 million viewers and a 9.6 household rating, beating all five NBA Finals broadcasts on sibling net ABC. The draw was the most-watched, highest-rated match of the tourney; the July 13 Germany v. Argentina final drew 17.3 million viewers and a 9.1 household rating.