Photographer: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Fox’s Soccer World Cup Deal Set to Get Sweeter Amid Expansion

  • FIFA set to expand World Cup from 32 teams to 48 for 2026
  • Fox managed to secure no-bid extension after Qatar fallout

Soccer’s World Cup continues to deliver for U.S. broadcaster Fox Sports, the network that was controversially given an extension by FIFA allowing it to broadcast the tournament’s 2026 event.

On Tuesday, FIFA’s board is set to agree to expand the tournament from its current 32-team format to a likely 48 teams in 2026, increasing the value of television rights thanks to 16 extra games. Fox already scored a big win in 2015 when FIFA delivered it broadcasting rights for 2026 without conducting a competitive sales process.

FIFA’s ruling council arrived in Zurich Sunday, with several expecting the expansion to go ahead. President Gianni Infantino said last week the “overwhelming majority” of its 211 member nations backed the change.

That deal came amid complaints from the broadcaster over FIFA’s plan to switch the dates of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which Fox secured along with the 2018 edition for about $400 million. Fox agreed to pay a similar fee for 2026 after FIFA’s then management sought to minimize any fallout from the date change. The value of the 2026 event is likely to be far higher should a planned North American bid to host the tournament be accepted.

The value of soccer rights has grown in recent years. Agreements by Fox and Telemundo to screen the next two editions of the World Cup in the U.S. are worth four times more than what ESPN and Univision paid for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments. Both companies have complained about not being invited to bid for 2026.

Extra Revenue

FIFA has projected television income of $3.6 billion from its preferred 48-team World Cup expansion option, according to an internal 64-page research document. That compares with a projection of $3.1 billion from Russia in 2018.

FIFA’s former secretary general Jerome Valcke said at the time the extension with Fox was done to “make sure there are no issues regarding the decision on the time the World Cup would be played.” Fox had said it had bought rights to the 2022 tournament expecting it would be played in summer months, as it has been since the first event in 1930. The competition was moved because of concerns about the impact of high summer temperatures in Qatar.

Jonathan Bing, a spokesman for Fox, declined to comment.

FIFA has already sold 40 percent of the television rights to the 2026 World Cup, and 25 percent for the 2030 tournament. The organization said it will have to address an increase in matches “with rights holders of already-signed” contracts.

The FIFA Council, the organization’s top board, has been studying different expansion plans, following an election promise made by Infantino when he was campaigning last year. A briefing document sent to members features different expansion options, including a 40-team tournament. Infantino’s preference is for 48, with teams split into 16 groups of three in the first phase. The top two from each group advance to a 32-team knockout event.

Such a tournament would generate $6.5 billion in total revenue, $1 billion more than the amount forecast from Russia 2018. With $335 million in additional costs, FIFA forecasts a net revenue increase of $640 million.

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