The FIFA official who negotiated a surprise broadcast extension with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports for soccer’s World Cup says the agreement was needed to protect date changes required to hold the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke, the organization’s highest administrator, said Fox was given the 2026 World Cup rights in addition to those for the 2018 and 2022 events the broadcaster won following a 2011 bidding competition to “make sure there are no issues regarding the decision on the time the World Cup would be played.”
Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN -- the U.S. broadcaster of the last two World Cups -- was among American television companies unaware that the contract was being discussed. ESPN President John Skipper said he found out about the extension when FIFA put out a news release, saying it was “a less than ideal way for a former partner to hear about it.”
Fox had questioned FIFA’s proposal to reschedule the 2022 event to protect athletes and spectators from Qatar’s hot summer. The broadcaster said it bought the rights believing the tournament would be played in summer months as it has been since the first event in 1930.
“We have done nothing wrong,” Valcke said in an interview. “The deal is good for FIFA, the deal is good for Fox. That’s the most important part, and we have done everything which is in line with international standards.”
Members of FIFA’s executive board have yet to learn the financial details. Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Hussein, a FIFA vice president challenging Sepp Blatter for the organization’s presidency, has said he’s looking into what happened.
The sides negotiated for several months before agreeing on a contract worth more than the $1 billion Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.’s sports broadcasting arm and NBCUniversal’s Telemundo are paying for the next two World Cups combined, Valcke said. The fee would be even higher should the U.S. win staging rights to the 2026 World Cup. Fox has declined to comment further than a news release it issued confirming the deal.
The World Cup is usually held in June and July, but summer temperatures in Qatar -- the first Middle East country to host the event -- can rise above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). FIFA awarded the hosting rights in 2011, and in February elected to reschedule the event to cooler dates in November and December.
Valcke said the decision to play the event in December affects the U.S. more than most other countries because it coincides with the end of the National Football League season.
“At the same time in winter they have the end of the NFL season, they are in the different American sports seasons which are important for them,” he said.
Fox has never broadcast World Cup soccer in the U.S. Valcke likened the partnership to a couple in love.
“When you are in love with a woman you spend time together and there’s one time where you say, ‘Hey, by the way, let’s extend,’” he said.