The headline from Bloomberg - that North American TV networks, Telemundo and FOX Sports, will receive a USD$500 million windfall from broadcasting the 2026 World Cup – tells only half the story.

The estimated windfall is because FIFA felt compelled to award the rights to the 2026 World Cup at the same money and to the same broadcasters without a competitive process. It was a decision that is yet another consequence of the famously flawed process for the 2018/2022 World Cups, and the decision to move the 2022 World Cup to November/December 2022. 

For North American networks, November/December is their peak sport season. The new timeframe for 2022 World Cup will cause significant disruption to network scheduling, and require additional resources in order to fulfil their commitments. 

Rather than face a sustained campaign against the decision to move the 2022 tournament from Telemundo and FOX Sports, Sepp Blatter, Jerome Valcke and presumably FIFA’s top legal man, Marco Villiger – now one of the deputy CEOs at FIFA - decided to roll over the 2018 and 2022 arrangements. 

As Bloomberg reports, it was a decision that took the other North American networks by surprise and possibly left FIFA short-changed on the deal.

That’s only half the issue.

Since Gianni Infantino has been FIFA President, he has encouraged – if not pushed – a joint bid for the 2026 World Cup, led by the USA. 

Some see this as reward for US Soccer’s longstanding President, Sunil Gulati. He helped propel Infantino into the Presidency last year. Gulati was once best buddies with Chuck Blazer, but is widely considered to be an informant for the FBI in their ongoing investigations into football administration. 

Some see this as a way of FIFA trying to make the USA happy. There is a view that the #FIFAgate investigations only began because the US Bid team were unhappy that they lost. President Bill Clinton returned home, called his friend Loretta Lynch who was then the Attorney-General for the eastern district of New York, the authorities picked-up Blazer on his scooter on the way to Elaine’s one evening – and the rest is history.

Both reasons may have an element of truth. 

When it comes to FIFA, it also pays to follow the money. 

On the one hand, Telemundo and FOX Sports have received the rights to the 2026 tournament at the 2018/2022 rates. On the other hand – or should that be in the other hand – FIFA will receive a combined ‘bonus’ of $295 million if the 2026 tournament is held in the USA. They will also receive a further $5 million bonus from Canada’s Bell Media if it is held in Canada. 

FIFA might argue that such bonuses are ‘normal’; that as long as FIFA executives or staff are not benefiting personally from such huge bonuses, and the money is going into football, it doesn’t matter.

It does matter.

At the FIFA Congress last month, the FIFA Council agreed to an expedited bidding process for the 2026 tournament that strongly favours the joint bid from the USA, Canada and Mexico. 

Morocco raised the idea of bidding – possibly with Spain. A joint bid involving Europe was hit on the head by FIFA. They said that the 2026 World Cup must be hosted by CONCACAF, CAF or Oceania which, together with a 48-team tournament, limits the hosting possibilities. 

What the expedited bidding means, in effect, is that the 2026 World Cup is more than likely headed for North America.

There is no doubt that the USA alone could meet the bidding requirements, let alone with Canada and Mexico included. There is no doubt that it would be terrific World Cup. That’s not the point.

The questions that arise are: were the FIFA Council and the FIFA Congress aware that there is a $295 million bonus payable if that is the outcome? Do they believe that is an appropriate basis on which to make the decision? 

As the contracts are seen by only a handful of people within FIFA, the answer to the first question is likely to be ‘no’. 

It is one of the reasons why campaign group #NewFIFANow has called for tenders to be conducted every four years with details set out in the annual, published, financial report.

The answer to the second question should be ‘no’ also – but it is FIFA we’re talking about. 

If decisions are taken on the basis of which country’s broadcasters can afford a hefty bonus for FIFA, the number of countries that can host the tournament will become even more limited.  

The chances are that a ‘broadcast bonus’ is not the first time for FIFA. 

While attempts have been made to pinpoint the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar on the basis of Mohamed Bin Hammam’s ‘generosity’ to just about anyone who asked him for money in the football world, and/or the four African voters, nothing has yet stacked-up sufficiently to be a ‘smoking gun’.

The Telemundo and FOX Sports bonuses beg the question whether similar arrangements have applied in respect of past decisions. For example, was a bonus payable from the state-owned Al-Jazeera (now BeIn Sports) if the 2022 tournament was held in Qatar? 

As #NewFIFANow put it in a statement yesterday, if there is such a bonus – and it is an ‘if’ – how much is it? When did contract negotiations start? When did they end? When is the money payable? Does anyone stand to gain a personal bonus from its payment?

Along with the questions about 2026, these are the questions the FIFA Council and FIFA Congress should be asking. 

If not, we have to hope the Swiss and US investigators continue do so.

Categories: Analysis | Football Business

fifa, tv rights, fifa corruption

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