The 2018 and 2022 World Cups turned out to be far different than what Fox thought it was signing up for.
Fox bid nearly $500 million to secure the two tournaments (as well as the 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cups and other FIFA tournaments) back in 2011, giving the network the broadcast rights to the world’s biggest sporting event for the first time.
Then, disaster struck.
First, FIFA took the decision to move the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from the summer to the winter, with Fox unwittingly being forced to shoehorn the tournament into the middle of its busy winter TV schedule rather than its much more unoccupied summer period as initially planned.
Then, in a much bigger shock, the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, robbing the network of guaranteed ratings gold in the form of at least three matches from the home team, and the advertising revenue that came with it.
But Fox’s luck has turned around in a big way in the form of the 2026 World Cup.
In February 2015, FIFA awarded Fox and Telemundo the rights to the 2026 World Cup without the standard bidding process. The move was eventually revealed to be part of a quid pro quo from FIFA to avoid any lawsuit regarding its bait and switch of the 2022 World Cup.
By avoiding competition, the two networks received an unprecedented bargain.
“We agreed that we will extend with Fox for the same price as what they pay for 2022 plus inflation costs,” former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke told an inquiry into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process.
“Potentially we are losing money and we are making less money because we are not running an open process in the U.S. market, giving a chance to other channels to bid for and we just extend with Fox for the same amount of money,” Valcke continued.
The decision was seen as especially lucrative for the two networks in anticipation of news that was made official on Wednesday in Moscow: The 2026 World Cup will be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
“As the official English-language broadcaster of the next three FIFA World Cups, we expect the 2026 tournament to represent another massive leap forward in North America,” Fox said in a statement Wednesday.
“Fox Sports is excited to welcome our partners at FIFA and others around the world to our backyard for this unrivaled sporting event.”
Fox is right to be excited.
The 2026 World Cup promises to be a ratings bonanza, as the entire continent will be engulfed by soccer fervor and television networks will reap the benefits of an impassioned public and TV-friendly broadcast times.
Boosted by interest at home and ideal kickoff times, the 1994 World Cup in the United States averaged 2.8 million U.S. viewers per game – a number that wouldn’t be topped until the 2010 World Cup.
Back in 1994, soccer in the United States was a mere curiosity. The nation in 2026 will be vastly different than it was 32 years prior, filled with local soccer franchises that will have been established for decades and millions of fans who have been surrounded by the sport since birth.
Easy prediction: The 2026 will demolish whatever viewership records will be in place before the tournament kicks off.
Additionally, the 2026 World Cup is set to be the first with 48 teams instead of the current 32, meaning there will be 80 games instead of 64 and crucially for television, 16 more opportunities to sell advertising.
It all adds up to an incoming windfall for Fox and Telemundo. Though 2018 and 2022 weren’t what the networks were hoping for, 2026 is shaping up to make everything worth their while.