UPDATE: At 4:10pm on Friday, ESPN issued the following statement regarding 2026 World Cup broadcast rights:
“We were not invited to be involved in this process. Considering the high quality presentation that ESPN demonstrated and the exposure we brought to FIFA events through all our platforms, it was surprising and disappointing to learn of this when the press release was issued.”
It appears that they are not happy.
In a deal which looks one hell of a lot like compensation for moving Qatar 2022 to Winter dates, FIFA announced this morning that Fox Sports has been awarded the broadcast rights for the 2026 World Cup, a tournament which will almost certainly be held in North America and could very well be hosted by the US.
To say that ESPN and NBC are gob smacked by this news would not be an exaggeration.
According to leading experts, the broadcast rights to a US World Cup would be worth a scientifically calculated "whole crapload of money", and said rights were just awarded without any sort of tender process or open bidding.
The deal, which includes Spanish-language partner Telemundo and Canada’s CTV/TSN, also includes the rights to the 2027 Women's World Cup.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to moving the 2022 finals to Winter dates has always been the fact that FIFA had a biding contract with Fox/Telemundo for a summertime event, a period with a dearth of sports programming. It's a big part of the appeal.
But a move to November/December puts it in competition with the NFL playoffs and College football bowl season, and the International Olympic Committee freaks out at the merest suggestion that FIFA might hold the thing in January/February,putting it in competition for ad dollars with the Winter Olympics.
Some have suggested that the solution would be to hold it in early 2023, an idea which FIFA has so far flatly rejected on the not-unsound principle that the 2022 World Cup really needs to be held in 2022.
So with November/December 2022 looking more and more like a certainty - the IOC is already unhappy with FIFA for being the only world governing body which does not allow their full national teams to compete at the Olympics and stepping on a Winter Games would almost certainly send them over the edge - FIFA was looking at making huge financial concessions (read: givebacks) to Fox/Telemundo for altering a contract which specifically offered a May/June event which they were unilaterally moving into a jam packed US sports calendar.
Just the other day, the head of the International Ski Federation (FIS) one Gianfranco Kasper, who says that even the earlier winter dates would crush seven of his events but has been unable to get Sepp to return his phonecalls, said that "At FIFA they think that they are gods, and act like it. They care about nothing."
Instead, they've now booted the whole thing down the road 11 years to when Blatter, if he's even alive by then, will be turning 90 and won't care that the broadcast rights were heavily discounted.
Which brings us to the question of exactly where 2026 will be held, a topic which is suddenly of immense interest to Fox stockholders.
CONCACAF President Jeff Webb has made it very clear that his - and thus his confederation's - continued support of the criminal regime in Zurich is directly tied to the award of the 2026 World Cup to North America.
(He sometimes adds "or the Caribbean" but he's only being polite.)
By then it will have been 32 years since USA 94, the longest period any confederation except Oceania has gone without hosting. To say nothing of the fact that everyone knows the US was royally screwed out of 2022 and while he's not making a stink about it he's not going to forget it either.
In that 32 years, Asia will have had it twice and Europe three times. It's simply our turn.
Mexico may very well bid for 2026 also, which Fox wouldn't mind too much either and their bid partners at Telemundo would of course be ecstatic.
Of course, ESPN and NBC were looking forward to bidding on a Mexico or US World Cup too, but FIFA has taken care of that. See you at Australia 2030.
Canada has made some very cute little noises about bidding as well, but nobody really believes the CSA could pull it off and in any case FIFA would instantly shit-can a bid which called for artificial turf playing fields.
Canada could of course counter that with a promise to install real grass, but that would only infuriate the women who they are currently telling that it's impossible.
Can't have it both ways.
(In case you missed it, the women dropped the human rights lawsuit against FIFA and the CSA over the use of plastic turf. FIFA tried every legalistic maneuver imaginable to get the whole thing tossed out but having failed at that they quietly let it be known that if the women proceeded with the case they were prepared to simply cancel the Women's World Cup.
It's a money loser, most of the members don't care a lick about it anyway, the ExCo dislikes women anywhere besides the kitchen and the bedroom and the threat was very credible.
So they caved. Sad, but pretty much their only choice.)
As for Fox, they're going to go ahead and shoehorn the 2022 finals into the Christmas season and work around the NFL schedule. They probably figure a Thanksgiving triple header of World Cup matches isn't an altogether bad thing.
In return for what could turn out to be the ratings bonanza of a lifetime, which they're getting on the cheap, they're more than happy to live with the inconvenience.
And FIFA has checked off another obstacle to the Qatar Winter World Cup.
Sepp wins again.