On the eve of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, members of the international soccer governing body voted June 13 to award the 2026 World Cup to a joint bid from the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
The North American tournament marks a win for 21st Century Fox Inc.'s FOX Sports and NBCUniversal Media LLC's Telemundo Deportes, which hold the rights to air the 2026 World Cup, as well as the 2023 Women's World Cup and other FIFA events.
The 2026 tournament will see the field expanded to 48 teams from 32, meaning there will be 80 matches to cover, rather than the current total of 64, a 25% increase opening the door to additional sponsorship and inventory sales opportunities in much more favorable time slots for TV rights holders. The game plans call for 60 of the matches to play out in the U.S., with Mexico and Canada hosting 10 apiece.
With the 2026 tournament now slated for North America, FOX Sports and NBCU Telemundo Deportes reportedly will pay $182 million and $115 million respectively, in addition to considerations they made when FIFA extended their media deals. The size of those fees are unclear. According to a FIFA document released in June 2017, soccer’s world-governing body awarded the rights to the incumbents in deference to their not taking legal action should the 2022 tournament in Qatar be rescheduled to the winter.
In March 2015 FIFA decided to move the 2022 World Cup to a November-December time frame due to the oppressive heat that would have engulfed the tourney if played in the typical June-July period. The schedule shift moves the tournament to run from Nov. 21 through Dec. 18, airing during the American pro and college football seasons and interrupting soccer seasons around the globe.
Most of the matches will occur during the week and given a seven-hour time differential from Qatar to the U.S. east coast, they will not fully square up against football, basketball or hockey. Still, the crowded American sports calendar is likely to divide the viewing audience in November and December. FOX and Telemundo allocated some $475 million and $600 million, respectively, in October 2011 for the U.S. media rights to the 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cup tournaments in Canada and France, the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments and a host of other FIFA events.