Fox, Telemundo Get US World Cup rights

by | October 21, 2011 at 6:41 PM | Sports, TV News

World Cup Credit ESPN/Rob Tringali

World Cup Credit ESPN/Rob Tringali

ZURICH (AP) — FIFA cashed in on a $1.2 billion bonanza from United States broadcasters Friday, striking World Cup deals with Fox, Telemundo and Spanish language radio.

Fox won the English-language U.S. television rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, outbidding incumbent ESPN and NBC for soccer’s showpiece tournament.

Fox agreed to pay around $425 million for the two-tournament package, a person familiar with the bidding told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the figure was not made public. It also secured English-language radio rights.

ESPN paid $100 million to show the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2014 event in Brazil. The World Cup will be held in Russia in 2018 and in Qatar in 2022.

Telemundo paid around $600 million for the Spanish-language deal, the person said. Telemundo, which is owned by NBC Universal, also defeated a rights holder, Univision, which had paid $325 million for the 2010-2014 package.

Spanish-language radio rights went to Futbol de Primera Radio for more than $100 million.

The deals were agreed to on an important day for FIFA President Sepp Blatter. He revealed the first steps in a wide-ranging reform program he initiated after a troubled year that was peppered with scandals implicating some of his most senior colleagues within world soccer’s ruling body.

“We are happy because we are moving forward,” Blatter said, after signing off on the U.S. deals during a meeting of his executive committee. “Before the end of the year a big chunk of the concerns we had in the past … will be set behind us.”

The American contracts cover tournament finals in all FIFA competitions from 2015-22, also giving Fox the Women’s World Cup in 2015 and ’19.

“The FIFA World Cup and Women’s World Cup are two of the world’s biggest competitions,” Fox chairman David Hill said in a statement. “It is our privilege to be entrusted with these rights in the United States.”

The deal was welcome news on a day when News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch was criticized by disgruntled shareholders Friday at the company’s annual shareholders meeting. News Corp. is the parent company of the Fox networks.

Fox adds soccer’s biggest event to a portfolio of rights that includes the UEFA Champions League, the English Premier League and Italy’s Serie A.

The network is expected to televise the final and some top matches on its main over-the-air network and the majority on Fox Soccer and other of its cable networks, such FX and Fox Soccer Plus.

That is similar to The Walt Disney Co. formula, which has televised the final and a few matches on ABC, but most of them were on ESPN and ESPN2.

Acquiring FIFA rights is expected to drive distribution for Fox Soccer with cable carriers. Fox Soccer is available in 40 million U.S. households, while ESPN and ESPN2 are each available in nearly 99 million.

ESPN, which holds the English-language rights for the 2014 tournament in Brazil, earlier acknowledged defeat in its 2018-2022 bid.

“We made a disciplined bid that would have been both valuable to FIFA and profitable for our company, while continuing to grow our unprecedented coverage of the World Cup and Women’s World Cup events,” ESPN said in a statement. “We were aggressive while remaining prudent from a business perspective.”

ESPN and Univision ensured that the U.S. is currently FIFA’s most lucrative national market.

FIFA made the decisions after the networks submitted bids at its Swiss headquarters on Wednesday and Thursday.

FIFA earns about 90 percent of its revenue from broadcasting, sponsorship and marketing deals tied to the World Cup. The world body calculates it earned $2.4 billion in broadcast sales worldwide just for the 2010 tournament.

Qatar defeated the U.S. in the final round of voting for the 2022 World Cup in a five-country contest in December.

FIFA announced in March it already sold $1.7 billion worth of 2018-2022 broadcast rights to the Middle East and parts of Asia and Latin America. The deals were 90 percent more valuable than the same regions earned for 2010-2014, FIFA said.

AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report from Arlington, Texas.

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