ZURICH/NEW YORK: FIFA has moved early to extend to 2026 its World Cup television deal in the United States with Fox Sports in a move being seen as compensation over the likely date change of the 2022 finals writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Fox executives were furious when, having bought the rights to what they expected to be summer World Cups in 2018 and 2022 they suddenly discovered that the climate row over Qatar threatened to switch that ‘second’ World Cup into a midwinter broadcast clash with the run-up to the Super Bowl.

Now, without any warning of tenders or open competition, the world federation has stretched the World Cup transmission rights on to 2026 with both Fox and Spanish-language partner Telemundo as well as with Canada’s CTV/TSN. The 2023 Women’s World Cup also features in the deal.

Possible rival ESPN, apparently, had no warning that discussions of a deal extension were under way. ESPN held the rights up until last year in Brazil before Fox stepped in with its own $425m.

The particular attraction of the 2026 finals is that the United States is considered a front-runner to win hosting rights even though no formal announcements have yet emerged from FIFA about bid timing.

Political considerations

Speculation has suggested that long-serving FIFA president Sepp Blatter would have preferred the US, who lost out in the last round of exco voting, as a host in 2022 rather than Qatar.

Southern neighbour Mexico, a long-time football and TV power, is a likely rival for 2026.

Hence the decision of USSF president Sunil Gulati to nominate Prince Ali of Jordan as a FIFA presidential candidate to run against Blatter in May prompted some frowns of concern within his own federation.

The new Fox deal was welcomed by FIFA. Director of TV Niclas Ericson said: “Together, we will be able to further promote football in North America and build on the impressive interest shown by audiences in these major territories during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”

Blatter and FIFA commercial directors were thrilled with the demonstrations of US supporter interest in last year’s World Cup finals. The final between Germany and Argentina in Maracana was watched by 26.5m viewers via ESPN’s ABC broadcast and Univision. This represented a 7pc increase on 2010.