Executives from 21st Century Fox Inc.'s FOX Sports and Comcast Corp.'s Telemundo Deportes, the U.S. rights-holders to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, will have their eyes on pitches in Orlando, Fla., on Friday night and in Trinidad and Tobago come Tuesday.
With two qualifying matches remaining, the U.S. men’s national team is currently fourth in FIFA’s Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF, region and their position to make it to Russia next June is reportedly precarious. In terms of the World Cup, FIFA grants spots to CONCACAF's top three finishers: Mexico has already gained passage to Russia, while Costa Rica is second.
The U.S. plays Panama on Oct. 6. For FOX and Telemundo Deportes officials not at Orlando City Stadium, they will have to watch the match on ESPN2 (US) and Univision (US) and Univision Deportes (US), with kickoff scheduled around 7:30 p.m. ET.
FOX Sports and Telemundo Enterprises, the Spanish-language media unit of NBCUniversal Media LLC, outbid ESPN (US) and Univision Communications Inc., the long-time presenters of the World Cup in the U.S., allocating $475 million and $600 million, respectively, for FIFA event rights, beginning with the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada and concluding with the 2022 men’s tournament, slated for Qatar. Telemundo and FOX Sports subsequently secured the rights to FIFA events from 2023 through 2026, culminating with the men’s tourney, for undisclosed amounts.
Wins in Florida and Oct. 10 at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago, would ensure that the U.S. makes the trip to Russia in 2018. UNIVERSO (US) will televise the match in Spanish, while beIN SPORTS (US) holds English-language rights. Should the team fall short, it would mark the first time since 1986 that the U.S. men have failed to participate in the quadrennial tournament.
U.S. qualification concerns aside, the U.S. rights-holders to the 2018 tournament are also staring at the possibility that Argentina might not visit Russia either. Argentina, the runner-up to Germany in FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil, currently sits in sixth place in the South America region, which is guaranteed four spots in the FIFA final. The fifth-place side earns a two-game playoff meeting with New Zealand. Argentina must top Ecuador to ensure at least the encounter with New Zealand.
The absence of the two sides, particularly the U.S., could leave a hole in FOX Sports' expansive coverage plans and deflate ratings.
FOX Sports plans to deliver 350 hours from the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the largest production in its history. In addition to coverage of the tourney's 64 matches, the programmer will anchor its presentation from a state-of-the-art facility in Moscow’s Red Square. The two-story venue, featuring two sets, a main anchor desk and interview area, will serve as the home for "World Cup Live," "World Cup Today" and "World Cup Tonight," plus pregame, halftime and post-game shows.
Verizon Communications Inc. and Volkswagen will sponsor the halftime and post-game segments, respectively. Fox Sports officials report they have netted more than a dozen World Cup advertising deals, and the programmer is in advanced discussions with FIFA partners, including Coca-Cola and Adidas.
FOX Sports' coverage will also include virtual reality elements, as well as 15 original digital series that will be available on FOX Sports GO. National Geographic photographers, videographers and journalists will augment the overall presentation with multi-platform visuals.
Telemundo has yet to detail its World Cup coverage plans.