SBD/October 24, 2011/Media

Fox Paying Record Fees For Rights To '18, '22 World Cups

Fox' World Cup package will add to current coverage of Champions League on FSC
Fox "scored a huge coup in wresting" the '18 and '22 FIFA World Cup TV rights away from ESPN/ABC, according to the N.Y. TIMES' Jere Longman, who writes under the header, "$1 Billion World Cup TV Deal Reflects Soccer's Rise In U.S." Two TV execs said that ESPN in the bidding process "raised its bid from $350 million to $400 million," but Fox went to what sources said was the $450-500M level. Fox' winning bid "will add the sport's crown jewel to a soccer collection on its broadcast network and a cable network, Fox Soccer Channel, that already broadcasts the European Champions League." The winning bid is "more than double the combined $425 million that ESPN ($100 million) and the Spanish-language network Univision ($325 million) paid to broadcast the 2010 World Cup." The "record rights fees come at a heady time for the sport in the United States" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/22). SI.com's Grant Wahl noted Fox "seemed the least likely of the three English-language bidders to win." But it "now looks as though Fox is focusing its strategy on big international soccer properties, having secured the rights to the UEFA Champions League and these two World Cups." Based on ESPN's "recent treatment of the biggest soccer events," Fox "has a long way to go to catch ESPN when it comes to smart, high-quality coverage of the world's most popular sport." One key piece of information that is "still unknown is whether Fox stipulated to FIFA that it was committed to purchasing the rights for MLS and U.S. Soccer during its eight-year World Cup rights-holding period." If FIFA was "simply interested in the highest-money bid regardless of a network's commitment to growing the sport in America, that could be bad news indeed for MLS and U.S. Soccer, which are tied for the next three years with ESPN and NBC thanks to their partnership contracts" (SI.com, 10/21).

FORMING AN EMPIRE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Lauren Schuker noted the "sharp increases in World Cup fees come as sports rights have escalated in general" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/22). BROADCASTING & CABLE's Jon Lafayette noted Fox can "use the World Cup to boost distribution and rights fees for its soccer channels." The matches "could also wind up on FX, which just added college football and UFC." While ESPN is "often blamed for the rapidly escalating cost of sports rights -- most recently when it agreed to a new $15.2 billion deal with the NFL -- it's interesting to note that in three recent competitions, ESPN was outbid, losing the Olympics and the NHL to Comcast and NBCU, as well as the World Cup to Fox" (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 10/21). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Matt Yoder wrote, "What a coup for Fox Sports." If soccer "continues its trend upwards in this country, the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be ratings bonanzas." While ESPN has been "getting all the credit for their soccer coverage, Fox is slowly building a soccer empire." Yoder: "Here's the rub. Fox Sports has been atrocious in televising major soccer events." Yoder asked, "Where does ESPN go from here? ... Nothing will change in the next few years regarding ESPN's superior soccer coverage with the EPL, MLS, US National Team, and 2014 World Cup. However, afterwards I would expect ESPN to more fervently pursue the European club game and make an even bigger commitment to the EPL and others" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 10/21).

NETTING A GOAL: In L.A., Joe Flint noted for Telemundo "in particular, getting the World Cup is a coup." The network has "long trailed Univision in ratings, and having the World Cup will give it a huge platform to promote the rest of its programming to the growing Latino audiences in the United States." NBCU Chair Lauren Zalaznick said, "This landmark deal for Telemundo represents perhaps the greatest milestone in its history" (L.A. TIMES, 10/22). Also in L.A., Lisa Dillman wrote under the header, "Fox Wins World Cup Broadcast Rights -- Worried?" Dillman: "The not-so-funny side of Fox scares people -- in particular, sports fans used to their major events delivered in a certain way. ESPN has handled soccer pitch-perfectly, and the immediate reaction to Friday's news has been a mixture of concern and wariness." Dillman continued, "It's hard to believe ESPN would abandon soccer coverage in a meaningful and immediate way" (L.A. TIMES, 10/23).
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Media, Fox, ESPN, NBC, Univision, FIFA

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