This past winter, before Fox had even televised one FIFA World Cup match, word leaked that the rights holder for every World Cup from the 2015 women’s event up to and through the 2022 men’s tournament in Qatar was being handed another cycle of tournaments, without going to an open bid process.
Speculation—and well placed corroborations—led many in the industry to believe Fox was gifted the TV rights to the 2026 FIFA World Cup as a make good for FIFA agreeing to move the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to winter from the event’s traditional summer timeslot.
The move is the most controversial decision FIFA has ever made regarding the World Cup, and it’s the direct reason—along with all the money, and the paper trail connecting unscrupulous higher-ups in FIFA to all the money—the entire organization is crumbling from within. From Soccer Gods on Fusion:
FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke as good as confirmed those rumors in February, implying it was done to avoid legal “issues regarding the decision on the time the World Cup would be played”.
(And making a weird love analogy to explain why FOX and FIFA did the deal: “When you are in love with a woman you spend time together and there’s one time where you say, ‘Hey, by the way, let’s extend’.” Hey, Jerome. Is that a broadcast rights extension in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?)
This week, the question of where 2018 and 2022 will be played is still very much up in the air, with FIFA even fighting within itself whether or not those bids will be reopened.
The future is even more unsettled. With the location of the 2026 World Cup not even going to bid until 2017, it was beyond curious that FIFA would ostensibly hand the event to Fox in early 2015 without opening that up to bid.
ESPN clearly wants the World Cup back, with some higher ups publicly irate at the news. NBC’s coverage of the Premier League has shown they’re serious about the future of soccer in America too. Hell, even BeIn Sports has the resources to throw enough interest FIFA’s way to as least make one of the bigger networks nervously overpay for World Cup rights.
If the 2026 World Cup is awarded to a North American country, that event could net Fox somewhere in the billions, plural.
The value of hosting the 2026 World Cup, if it ends up on American soil over Mexico or Canada, could prove to be the most lucrative sports television single-event contract in American history, given how much has been paid out for what the return will be.
That’s why people questioned FIFA’s motives at the time, even if it seemed an obvious make-good for moving 2022 into the winter, putting a huge kink in Fox’s NFL playoff coverage that will undoubtedly coincide with the World Cup television schedule. It’s also why now, with all the dirty laundry of FIFA being hung out to see, Fox may get some unwanted attention on how this all went down.
Moreover, per the Daily Mail, the whole handshake deal with Fox could put FIFA in even more hot water:
FIFA have not responded to questions about how many other similar secret payments they have made, or on other covert deals kept from the public.
But Valcke admitted in February that Fox and the Spanish-language platform Telemundo had been awarded the 2026 World Cup rights ‘in order to protect FIFA’ from a legal threat over the moving of the 2022 World Cup from summer to winter. ‘We have done what we had to do in order to protect FIFA and the organisation of the World Cup,’ he said.
Fox and Telemundo agreed to pay almost $1bn for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups on the basis they would be played in the summer. Fox were outraged at the prospect of a winter 2022 World Cup clashing with the NFL season.
Ironically, what was done to protect FIFA in the future is exactly what may lead to its demise in the present. Also, the money. To continue…
So FIFA placated Fox by handing them the 2026 rights without any tender process, and it is understood there is a contractual agreement in place, signed by top FIFA officials, for that deal. FIFA did not respond to requests on Saturday night to confirm this, or to publish the contract.
If it is confirmed that FIFA effectively bought Fox’s compliance because they felt Fox had a legal case over the 2022 switch to winter, it would increase the chances of the losing bidders for 2022 – the USA, Australia, Japan and South Korea – claiming compensation for bidding for a World Cup under what might legally be claimed were FIFA’s false pretences that it would be a summer tournament.
In other words, if FIFA gave Fox 2026 in order to avoid litigation for Fox’s hardship of moving 2022 to winter, they could be opening themselves up to a similar lawsuit that the bid process for 2022 wasn’t fair, given that Qatar won the bid based on a summer schedule—insane, I know—and then after failing a viability study, was allowed to plan to move the event to winter, screwing every major league around the world, but also screwing those other countries that bid for those games in good faith.
So, by giving Fox the rights to 2026 to shut it up, FIFA may have actually made more people aware about just how unhappy Fox was, and how unhappy they should be. With FIFA kickbacks and bribes being on the front page of every news site in the world, the true nature and full details of the 2026 deal will surely come to light at some point. If there is more to the deal than just a make-good for 2022, who knows where the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be—both geographically, and potentially, on television.