In a stunning, unexpected move on Thursday that has the U.S. soccer community chattering, FIFA announced it had extended U.S. media rights agreements with Fox and NBC’s Universal’s Telemundo through the 2026 World Cup. No financial figures were released.
“We are truly honored that FIFA has elected to extend Fox Sports’ rights to the portfolio of FIFA events including the FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women’s World Cup through 2026,” said a Fox Sports spokesperson. “These events are some of the world’s most important sports competitions, and it is our privilege to be entrusted with these rights in the United States. We’re looking forward to the kickoff of FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 in June with great anticipation.”
When asked by Sports Illustrated to speak to Fox Sports president Eric Shanks, an affable chap who enjoys speaking with media members about all things Fox, a Fox Sports spokesman said, “We are referring all further inquiries to FIFA.”
CTV/TSN in Canada has also had its rights agreement extended.
The extensions cover the following tournaments, according to FIFA: The 2026 FIFA World Cup: FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023 and 2025, FIFA U-17 World Cup 2023 and 2025, FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2023 and 2025, FIFA Futsal World Cup 2024, FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2024 and 2026, FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2024 and 2026, and FIFA Confederations Cup 2025.
“These agreements guarantee wide distribution for FIFA tournaments across the US and Canada,” said FIFA Director of TV Niclas Ericson, in a statement. “Together, we will be able to further promote football in North America and build on the impressive interest shown by audiences in these major territories during the 2014 FIFA World Cup,”
The news is a huge development given speculation that the United States is a possible candidate to host the 2026 World Cup. And it stunned veteran soccer watchers and Fox competitors. An ESPN source said the network was unaware of any negotiations for FIFA media rights in the U.S.
Tweeted ESPN’s Bob Ley, one of the signature anchors of ESPN’s soccer coverage: “Did FIFA just grant rights to WC2026 without opening it up to bidding? #typicalFIFA"
It appears that way. In 2011 Fox outbid ESPN and NBC for the U.S. English-speaking rights–Sports Business Journal reported the total rights fee to be between $400 million to $500 million–while NBCUniversal’s Telemundo paid $600 million for the U.S. Spanish TV rights.
“We’re very pleased that FIFA allowed us to extend our deal as the exclusive U.S. Spanish-language broadcaster of FIFA World Cup tournaments through 2026,” said Joe Uva, NBCUniversal's Chairman of Hispanic Enterprises and Content. “This unprecedented agreement gives our Telemundo and NBCUniversal viewers and digital consumers more of the world’s best soccer for the next 12 years."
Some insiders suggest granting Fox and Telemundo an extra round without opening up the bidding means a move to the winter for the 2022 Qatar World Cup is a done deal. The current North American rights holders would be hurt by that move given the loaded winter sports calendar would hurt viewership. FIFA extending Fox and Telemundo's rights–and not opening it up to other bidders–could be seen as a make-good for the shift in the Qatar tournament.