When Fox won U.S. broadcasting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups back in 2011, it was seen as something of a shock, especially given the pre-existing relationship between FIFA and ESPN for previous broadcasts. But according to a government witness who testified this past week in federal court, Fox had some help landing that landmark deal.
Per The New York Times, Alejandro Burzaco, a former sports marketing executive from Argentina, a Fox executive had been bribing a FIFA official who controlled the committee on TV deals in order to acquire inside information from that arrangement. That information gave the media giant an edge over ESPN and NBC in the blind auction bidding process.
“He said, ‘If Fox puts up $400 million, then it will win,’” Burzaco said in testimony on Friday, referring to what had been relayed to him by FIFA official Julio Grondona. Fox ended up paying a little more than $400 million for the rights.
Burzaco pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges in 2015 as part of an earlier trial after admitting to paying at least $160 million in bribes over 15 years. He also made similar claims about Fox, FIFA, and bribery at that trial.
The testimony is part of a trial in which multiple people and corporations have been charged by the Justice Department over corruption in international soccer media deals. Hernán López and Carlos Martínez, executives at Fox International Channels, have been accused of wire fraud and money laundering charges in order to acquire FIFA event rights. The third defendant is Full Play Group, an Argentine sports marketing firm accused of using bribes and back-room deals to win media rights to various tournaments and matches.
It’s important to note that Fox Corporation is not on trial in these proceedings. The media company, which also holds the rights to the 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America, was in fact a different corporate structure at the time of these bribes. Per the NY Times, the company has denied any knowledge of these bribery claims and has called any suggestion to the contrary “emphatically false.”
This week, Fox released a new statement, reiterating that “this case involves a legacy business that has no connection to the new Fox Corporation.” A spokesperson also noted to the Times that Fox International Channels, the subsidiary accused by the Justice Department, was sold in 2019 and is no longer part of Fox Corporation.