Fox’s sweetheart deal to broadcast the 2026 World Cup just got a whole lot sweeter with FIFA’s decision to expand to 48 teams for the tournament.
Today FIFA made official what had long been suspected, expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 teams. While the expansion may be frowned upon by soccer purists and dilute the world’s most popular sporting event, FIFA took advantage of an opportunity to do one thing everyone loves – make more money.
According to Bloomberg, the expanded tournament would increase revenue by $640 million. And on the television side? Income is projected to increase from $3.1 billion to $3.6 billion.
It’s a coup for Fox as their rights fees just got a whole lot more valuable thanks to the larger tournament. They get an extra 24 World Cup games to broadcast on their collection of networks for the 2026 World Cup for nothing.
Those extra World Cup games are extra-valuable for a network like Fox, who can now televise more premier live sports rights on not just their broadcast network, but on FS1 and FS2. With an expanded World Cup, it presents another week or maybe two for FS1 to be relevant on the national scene. While we’re talking about something that’s not going to happen for another decade (and who knows where FS1 is going to be at that point in time), this is the long view that Fox has to take in competing with ESPN, not the immediacy of hot takes from Skip Bayless. Fox can pay millions to their hot take artists, but the most those shows are going to get is in the low, low six figure viewers. The only way to boost the entire network (and making FS1’s studio shows more valuable) is through more elite live events and coverage like the World Cup. With an expanded World Cup, FS1 can become the go-to sports network for an entire month.
And what’s more, for 2026, Fox is getting the expanded World Cup at a discount price thanks to other FIFA shenanigans.
If you’ll recall, FIFA basically gifted Fox and other World Cup broadcasters around the world rights to the 2026 World Cup without a bidding competition. This decision came after FIFA gifted the 2022 World Cup to Qatar then realized it gets hot there in the summer time. By moving the 2022 World Cup to the winter time, it devalued Fox’s rights for the tournament as it would face greatly increased competition from college football and the NFL. When Fox bid on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, they thought they were getting two summer tournaments. FIFA had to make it up to Fox and extend their agreement into 2026, perhaps to avoid a lawsuit over the 2022 debacle.
The value of those rights just got much, much better. (Which is likely to cause rivals like ESPN and NBC to become even more furious that they didn’t get a chance to bid on the tournament like previously thought.) Put it this way, if Fox paid roughly $467 million (a reported 10% increase on their 2022 fee) for the 2026 World Cup, their cost per game just went down from $8.3 million to $5.8 million.
And just in case that wasn’t good enough news for Fox, the 2026 tournament is also projected to take place in North America. With the USA hosting some or all of the 2026 World Cup, Fox will be huge winners by being able to broadcast that tournament as interest will be greatly increased compared to unfriendly timezones like Russia and Qatar to American viewers.
It’s a triple threat jackpot for Fox. Not only do they get the rights to the 2026 World Cup without having to go through an open bidding process, but they also will likely get it played on home soil, and they get an expanded tournament of 80 games.
Nobody is quite sure right now how the newly expanded 16×3 World Cup will work, and just how much it will effect the quality of the tournament or even the intrigue in the qualifying cycle. Those are of secondary concern right now to FIFA and broadcasters around the world. Because regardless of the impact on the quality of the World Cup, the increase in quantity will mean that everyone gets to cash in.