While Sepp Blatter makes a show of cleaning up FIFA despite the fact that everyone knows better, his organization was also holding bidding for the broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. For Americans, the results of the process are either a little troubling or downright freaking scary.
NBC subsidiary Telemundo won the North American Spanish-language rights, while Fox secured the English-language rights. Fox, the network that grabbed the NA rights to the UEFA Champions League a few years back and then proceeded to broadcast the final of said Champions League with pre-match the included a soccer playing animated robot and Michael Strahan (former New York Giant and Fox NFL analyst) doing the “soccer for dummies” routine.
Fox, the network that spends as little as possible on their Fox Soccer production while leveraging feeds of Premier League matches produced by Sky Sports. Fox, the network that just lost its Major League Soccer rights to NBC.
You can’t blame US-based soccer fans from being just a touch distressed. Amidst the jokes about Joe Buck calling soccer matches and Warren Barton is a genuine concern about what this means for soccer in the US, and specifically for MLS. Fox is likely to have overpaid massively, the only way most observers thought they could beat out ESPN, which now is faced without a marquee soccer event around which to center their coverage.
This is the opinion of Ty Duffy at The Big Lead:
Without the World Cup, soccer, at least men’s soccer, on ESPN likely dies. This was John Skipper’s pet project and legacy. He just lost it. There’s no longer an incentive for ESPN to invest in the U.S. Men’s National Team. The only incentive for ESPN to invest in MLS was to promote said national team. Highlights should be drastically reduced on Sportscenter. For a significant segment of the casual sports audience, it likely ceases to exist. Soccer will be promoted through 2014, but without the impetus to build a future audience.
With ESPN holding so much sway over sports in America, it’s hard to see their missing out on these World Cups as a good thing.
Meanwhile, fans wonder if Fox can figure out how to properly broadcast games, increase the quality of their signal, and find hosts and analysts that don’t make them want to shove shiny pointy things into their ear holes. Whether they can do that in the intervening seven years is anyone’s guess.