Fox Sports to Pay $15 Million for Messi, Neymar Tournament

  • Tournament is biggest U.S. soccer event since 1994 World Cup
  • Competition had been in doubt after $100 million bribe scheme

Fox Sports has paid $15 million to broadcast the Copa America Centenario, the biggest soccer tournament to take place in the U.S. in more than 20 years, according to people with knowledge of the contract.

Fox’s contract is about one-quarter of what Univision is paying for the Spanish-language broadcast rights, said the people, who asked for anonymity because details of the agreement are confidential.

The 16-team tournament, designed to mark the 100-year anniversary of the quadrennial all-South America club competition, is at the center of a sprawling international corruption case that has led to the indictment of several senior soccer officials. The U.S. Department of Justice has alleged that a media-buying company, Datisa, paid more than $100 million in bribes to broker the rights to four tournaments starting with last year’s Copa America in Chile.

Datisa had sold about $140 million worth of television contracts for the Centenario before the Department of Justice went public with its investigation. The tournament’s organizers, South American soccer body Conmebol and its northern counterpart, Concacaf, had to claw back those rights to ensure the event could go forward. A new agreement reached in January with WME/IMG and Soccer United Marketing, or SUM, to sell the remaining rights.

Lou D’Ermilio, a spokesman for Fox, declined to comment. IMG and SUM didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Television agreements are now in place in most of the countries in the Western Hemisphere. The new rights holders are targeting deals in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, which could command as much as $50 million in additional revenue, the people said.

IMG and SUM beat 12 other competitors for the rights by offering a minimum guarantee of $20 million to Conmebol and Concacaf for the remaining television and sponsorship rights. Additional income will come from a profit share, once the two rights holders surpass a certain sales threshold. The previous agreement with Datisa guaranteed $112.5 million.

The tournament will begin June 3 and take place in 10 venues across the U.S., with the final scheduled for June 26 at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey. Some of the world’s top soccer talent is expected to be there, including Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who this month was named the world’s best player for a fifth time, and his Barcelona teammate, Brazil’s Neymar.

The oldest regional tournament, the Copa America, typically features 12 teams but has been enlarged to include North American nations including host U.S. and Mexico, two of the biggest broadcast markets in the region.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.