ESPN and Univision responded angrily Friday after FIFA awarded U.S. broadcast rights to the 2026 World Cup to Fox and NBC's Telemundo without open bidding.
ESPN broadcast six straight World Cups from 1994 through last year, but in 2011 was outbid by Fox, which agreed to pay about $425 million for the 2018 tournament in Russia and the 2022 tournament in Qatar. The network is owned by The Walt Disney Co., and ESPN President John Skipper has been a major supporter of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
"We were not invited to be involved in this process," ESPN said in a statement Friday, a day after FIFA's surprising announcement. "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."
Univision televised seven consecutive World Cups starting in 1990 but was outbid four years ago by NBC's Telemundo, which agreed to pay around $600 million for U.S. Spanish-language rights for 2018 and 2022. Univision's statement was similar to that of ESPN.
"We were not invited to participate in the process and find it curious that FIFA would think keeping the No. 1 Hispanic media company in the U.S. out of a competitive bidding process is good for the growth of soccer in the U.S.," Univision said.
FIFA did not respond to a request for comment. U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, a member of FIFA's executive committee, said in an email: "Referring all to Fifa HQ."
Soccer's governing body wants to move the 2022 tournament from its traditional June-July period to avoid Qatar's summer heat. A working group plans to recommend new dates at a Feb. 23 meeting in Doha. FIFA President Sepp Blatter prefers a November-December tournament, which would conflict on U.S. television with NFL and NCAA football.
"You go into buying a World Cup and you believe it's going to be in the same time frame it's always been," Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said last year. "Clearly in America there's much more competition for ratings points."
FIFA's announcement Thursday did not say whether its executive committee had approved the U.S. television agreements for the 2026 tournament. FIFA likely is two years away from even choosing the site for that World Cup.
Niclas Ericson, FIFA's TV Director, said in a statement Thursday "timing for the sales processes in various markets is dependent on ... factors in individual markets."
FIFA was prepared in 2005 to sell U.S. rights to the 2010 and 2014 tournaments to NBC, but American Chuck Blazer, then on FIFA's executive committee, persuaded his colleagues not to approve the deal. FIFA later reached U.S. deals worth $425 million, with ESPN paying $100 million and Univision $325 million.