ESPN’s anger: FIFA Awarding U.S. World Cup Soccer Rights to Fox

ESPN was really angry in the recent days for losing chance to get the rights of U.S. World Cup, which may bring bad influence to ESPN’s reputation. As a well-know broadcaster, it’s very important to report some famous sports event, but FIFA give the right to Fox Sports and Telemundo without open tender.

FIFA didn’t say it was tendering for the 2026 World Cup before issuing a statement that took Fox’s rivals, including ESPN, by surprise. Fox and NBCUniversal’s Telemundo were awarded rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups for about $1 billion, four times as much as the previous contract with ESPN and Univision. Neither side gave financial details for the extension announced two days ago.

John Skipper, president of ESPN, said in an interview yesterday that FIFA never discussed the 2026 rights with the broadcaster.

“We heard the news yesterday with the press release FIFA sent out,” Skipper said. “It’s a less than ideal way for a former partner to hear about it.”

The rights were awarded before a host has been picked for the 2026 event. The U.S., which lost out to Qatar for the 2022 tournament, may seek to hold the event, according to media including World Soccer magazine. Bidding for the 2026 World Cup won’t begin for at least two years.

ESPN's anger,U.S. World Cup

“FIFA constantly reviews and monitors global market conditions for sports media rights in order to make the best decision for each market,” FIFA said in response to questions about why it didn’t put the rights out for tender. The extensions “were the result of a detailed assessment of the market and discussions with the relevant broadcasters.”

A home World Cup could be even more lucrative for Fox and Telemundo after a record number of viewers tuned in for last year’s tournament, where the U.S. advanced to the second round from a group that included Germany and Portugal.

Qatar Criticism

In 2010, when it lost out to Fox, Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN said it had made a “disciplined bid that would have been both valuable to FIFA and profitable for our company.”

Bob Ley, network host of ESPN’s soccer coverage, criticized FIFA on his Twitter feed, writing “Did FIFA just grant rights to WC2026 without opening it up to bidding? #typicalFIFA.”

Univision, based in New York, also issued a statement.

“We were not invited to participate in the process and find it curious that FIFA would think keeping the No. 1 Hispanic media company in the U.S. out of a competitive bidding process is good for the growth of soccer in the U.S.,” the network said in an e-mailed statement.

ESPN's anger,U.S. World Cup

2022 Tournament

Organizers of the 2022 soccer tournament are considering rescheduling it to the northern hemisphere’s winter months from its usual June and July schedule to limit the impact of searing temperatures in host country Qatar. Rupert Murdoch-controlled Fox has been trying to prevent the move. The world’s richest country per capita, Qatar won the rights in a bid race marred by claims of foul play.

A winter tournament would compete with National Football League games, as well as the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League in the U.S. Murdoch visited FIFA President Sepp Blatter at the organization’s Zurich offices and his son James had separately complained about rescheduling.

A task force looking into the tournament will meet in Doha on Feb. 23, and FIFA’s executive committee will decide on the issue at its next meeting in March.

What do you think about FIFA Awarding U.S. World Cup Soccer Rights to Fox, and should ESPN feel angry?

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