Fox on the box: What happened to the U.S. World Cup TV war?

Story highlights

  • Fox Sports wins rights to broadcast 2026 World Cup in USA
  • FIFA refuses to comment that Fox faced no competition
  • Fox previously against moving 2022 World Cup to Qatari winter
  • World governing body refuses to disclose fee received

(CNN)It's one of the biggest sporting events on the planet and in a growing market for new fans, football's global governing body has cut a media rights deal for the 2026 World Cup over a decade ahead of the tournament.

FIFA extended its North American media rights agreements -- handing Fox the English language deal and NBCUniversal's Telemundo the Spanish language rights -- for an event in which the 2026 host nation has still to be determined.
"These agreements guarantee wide distribution for FIFA tournaments across the U.S. and Canada," said FIFA Director of TV Niclas Ericson in a statement.
    "Together, we will be able to further promote football in North America and build on the impressive interest shown by audiences in these major territories during the 2014 FIFA World Cup."
    Just days after the English Premier League sold domestic television rights for over $8 billion for the three seasons from 2016, FIFA declined to detail what the latest North American deal was worth.
    Football's world governing body also refused to comment when asked if it had received sealed bids from rival broadcasters.
    Neither ESPN nor NBC responded to a CNN email asking if they had bid for the English language rights.
    That raises the question as to whether Fox, which already had agreements in place for the 2018 and 2022 editions following a $425 million deal signed in 2011, won the latest contract without any competition.
    The U.S. broadcaster has been outspoken over FIFA's plans to move the 2022 World Cup to the Qatari winter because of fears over the intense heat during the Gulf state's summer months.
    While a working party is expected to recommend suitable dates for the 2022 tournament on February 23, a switch to winter would play havoc with the U.S. sporting schedule.
    "You go into buying a World Cup and you believe it's going to be in the same time frame it's always been," Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said last year. "Clearly in America there's much more competition for ratings points."
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    A move to winter would be bad news for Fox given it could clash with the NFL playoffs and potentially the 2022 Winter Olympics.
    Some media commentators have suggested Fox was awarded the latest deal on the proviso that it will not make a complaint when the 2022 tournament is shifted to the Qatari winter.
    Potentially the 2026 tournament could be held in North America given it will be 32 years since the World Cup was last held there.
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    Yet the question remains why wouldn't FIFA want to benefit from a bidding war between Fox, ESPN and NBC and why sell the rights so early?
    "FIFA aims to distribute the highest quality coverage of its international tournaments to as wide an audience as possible," said FIFA in a statement to CNN.
    "FIFA constantly reviews and monitors global market conditions for sports media rights in order to make the best decision for each market.
    "The agreement extensions announced on Thursday were the result of a detailed assessment of the market and discussions with the relevant broadcasters."
    NBC, which retained Spanish-language rights through Telemundo, refused to comment on whether it had been invited to bid for the English version
    ''We were offered the opportunity to extend our Spanish-language rights for another cycle ... and we were happy to be able to complete the transaction,'' NBC Sports said in a statement.
    The 2014 World Cup final between Argentina and Germany was watched by an estimated 26.5 million in the U.S. which was up 7% on the 2010 figures.
    "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," Fox said in a statement.