Fox Sports has won the English-language rights to the four FIFA World Cup tournaments scheduled from 2015 to 2022, out-bidding the incumbent (and major soccer booster) ESPN.
FIFA had not made an official announcement as of Friday morning, but ESPN confirmed that it was not able to renew its pact with the governing body of international soccer.
In a statement released this morning, ESPN said it had made “a disciplined bid that would have been both valuable to FIFA and profitable for our company.” ESPN characterized its bid as “aggressive” but “prudent.”
NBC also sent a delegation to Zurich.
ESPN in 2005 paid $100 million for an English-language package that included the rights to the 2010 and 2014 Men’s World Cups. Given the ever-increasing popularity of soccer in the States, and the general snowballing trend in sports rights fees, ESPN would have been expected to bid at least $350 million to retain the rights to the event.
Fox has shown marked interest in the sport of late, putting up big ratings with Sunday English Premier League matches. (The Sept. 18 Chelseas-Manchester United tilt was the most-watched Premier League broadcast in history.) Still, the network’s surprise win has ESPN reeling. Not only has the Disney-owned network carried World Cup action for the last 30 years, but executive vice president of content John Skipper is a renowned soccer enthusiast.
Americans now seem to have been catching up with Skipper. The 2011 Women’s World Cup (USA vs. Japan) drew 13.5 million viewers on July 11, while 24.4 million U.S. viewers watched the Spain-Netherlands final in 2010.
Fox’s winning bid has not been disclosed, but it is believed to be north of $400 million. The deal gives the Fox Sports family the rights to air all FIFA events from 2015 to 2022, including the Men’s World Cup in 2018 and 2002, as well as the ’15 and ’19 Women’s events. Also in the mix are the under-20 and under-17 national team competitions.
The Spanish-language rights shootout had an even more shocking dénouement. While sources could not confirm the winner, the process of elimination strongly suggests that NBC Universal’s Telemundo has pulled off a coup in out-bidding incumbent Univision.
Univision paid $325 million for its last World Cup package.
A Univision spokesperson confirmed that the Spanish-language broadcaster was out of the running. “We thank FIFA for the opportunity to participate,” the spokesperson said. “As always, we remain committed to prudently evaluating content investments to ensure that we dedicate our resources toward an optimum mix of news, sports and entertainment programming.”
While the winning bids are expected to shatter all previous records, they may have been tempered somewhat by a sickly global economy and simple geography. The 2018 World Cup will be staged in Western Russia (host cities include Moscow and St. Petersburg), eight hours ahead of New York and 11 ahead of Los Angeles, which translates to odd viewing hours here in the U.S. Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup.
Bids were submitted in Zurich on Wednesday, and were followed in short order by a second round the following afternoon. FIFA is expected to make an official statement no later than Monday morning.