In a surprise move, FIFA skipped the bidding process and announced Thursday that Fox and Telemundo have been awarded U.S. broadcast rights to the 2026 World Cup.
The two networks kick off their inaugural World Cup broadcasts this summer with the Women’s World Cup from Canada. Telemundo will retain Spanish-language rights while Fox keeps the English-language rights.
“We are truly honored that FIFA has elected to extend Fox Sports’ rights to the portfolio of FIFA events including the FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women’s World Cup through 2026,” said Fox in a statement. “These events are some of the world’s most important sports competitions, and it is our privilege to be entrusted with these rights in the United States. We’re looking forward to the kick-off of FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 in June with great anticipation.”
“We’re very pleased that FIFA allowed us to extend our deal as the exclusive U.S. Spanish-language broadcaster of FIFA World Cup tournaments through 2026,” added Joe Uva, Chairman of Hispanic Enterprises and content, NBCUniversal. “This unprecedented agreement gives our Telemundo and NBC Universo viewers and digital consumers more of the world’s best soccer for the next twelve years."
The extension also covers the 2023 Women’s World Cup, as well as other FIFA tournaments including: U-20 World Cup 2023 and 2025, U-17 World Cup 2023 and 2025, Beach Soccer World Cup 2023 and 2025, Futsal World Cup 2024, U-20 Women’s World Cup 2024 and 2026, U-17 Women’s World Cup 2024 and 2026, and Confederations Cup 2025.
“These agreements guarantee wide distribution for FIFA tournaments across the US and Canada. 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,” said FIFA Director of TV Niclas Ericson.
The move is a blow to ESPN, which was a longtime rights holder until Fox outbid in 2011 for rights that run from 2015-2022. In the run up to the 2014 World Cup, ESPN president John Skipper — one of the sport's biggest supporters — did not hide his desire to wrestle those rights back from Fox. While ESPN holds rights for Major League Soccer, the FIFA tournaments are the sport’s premiere outlet. Now, ESPN will have to wait until at least 2032 (any deal would almost assuredly include the 2027 Women’s Cup) to return the World Cup pitch. NBCUniversal would have also likely made a bid for World Cup rights; NBC Sports has seen a lot of success with its coverage of the English Premier League.
Soccer popularity in the U.S. has been on a meteoric rise over the past few years and the quick strike by Fox to add four years is another sign of how hot a commodity soccer has become for U.S. sports networks. The 2014 World Cup from Brazil resulted in record viewership for ESPN and Univision; the final between Germany and Argentina drew over 26 million across both networks.
The move could also be seen as a way for FIFA to placate Fox, since the 2022 World Cup is set to be held in Qatar and could be moved to the winter due to the middle eastern country’s squelching summer temperatures. In that event, Fox would likely have to shelve its primetime lineup in the same way NBC does during Winter Olympic years.
The 2026 World Cup could be very lucrative for Fox and Telemundo. With Europe and Asia blocked from submitting bids to host the tournament, the U.S. – which made a strong push for the 2022 tournament – could be the favorite the host, which would surely boost TV viewership.
ESPN released a statement on late Friday:
“We were not invited to be involved in this process. Considering the high quality presentation that ESPN demonstrated and the exposure we brought to FIFA events through all our platforms, it was surprising and disappointing to learn of this when the press release was issued.”