Reynolds Rap

U.S. Can Win FIFA's 2013 Vote

12/02/2010 3:49 PM

So, the U.S. and England, the motherland of the game, wound up on the wrong end of FIFA’s vote to host the 2022 and 2018 World Cups.

But there’s another election, likely in October 2013, when a number of media companies can even the score to some degree against the side from Zurich.

If history is prologue — the autumn before the upcoming World Cup, next time from Brazil in 2014 — is the span when FIFA will select the carrier (s) for the 2018 and 2022 men’s tournaments, as well as Women’s Cups and other youth championships in between.

That’s when the U.S. can speak softly by carrying a not-so-big rights fee stick, one that responds to the myriad questions surrounding how politics, petrodollars, vote-swapping and the putin, er, putative legacy that FIFA believes its famed futbol tourney leaves behind, all seemed to have coalesced in favor of Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. That nation, home to 1.7 million people, 900,000 fewer than who live in Brooklyn and where temperatures could reach 120-degrees during the competition, will be the first from the Middle East to hold the FIFA fest.

In 2005, FIFA accepted a relative pittance of $425 million from Univision ($325 million) and ESPN/ABC ($100 million) for the rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, as well as the women’s tournaments in 2007 and 2011, plus 11 other competitions and events. Yet, it was the biggest media rights fees futbol’s international governing body had received from a single nation.

In the U.S., we play hard (without too much diving on the pitch or flopping on the basketball court) and bigger with most sports rights. Think about it: Comcast was willing to pay some $400 million annually for Versus-predecessor OLN to jump into the NFL game for eight primetime contests per season over a multiyear deal, before the pro football league decided to keep the slate for its in-house network.

No doubt, the upcoming FIFA rights negotiation will draw more than that, given soccer’s continued growth in this nation and the interest yielded by last summer’s tournament — 100 million tuned in at least some of the action from South Africa. The question is by how much.

With David Hill on the board of directors for the US Bid Committee, whose members also included Univision CEO Joe Uva and ESPN EVP of content John Skipper, Fox, flanked by FX and a presumably a much larger Fox Soccer Channel near decade’s end, signaled it was ready to join the World Cup rights revue in the States.

And who knows if the combined Comcast-NBCU might also consider heading in an offer featuring the broadcast network, Versus and Spanish-language network Telemundo for the globe’s top sports event — yes, Mr. Ebersol it is bigger than the Olympics.

Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation and the man who directed the US Bid gambit, said during the nation’s final presentation before FIFA on Dec. 1, that rights fees in the U.S. would essentially double for each World Cup. With $212 million apportioned for the 2014 tourney in what figures to be a somewhat time zone-friendly Brazil, Gulati suggested the dollars could approach an Olympic-like $1 billion for the 2022 competition. But that was with the U.S. hosting advantage, not from the land of central air-conditioned and transportable stadiums.

Even if there is interest from multiple parties, it’s hard to envision the rights escalating to anywhere near that level for FIFA with its new striker tandem of Russia — Sochi, remember, is home to the Winter Games in — and Qatar.

Eight hours ahead of the East Coast, the World Cups from Russia and Qatar certainly don’t offer the home-nation interest and the primetime Nielsen possibilities that would have been afforded by a Stateside 2022 tourney.

Nor should the aforementioned media entities fill FIFA’s net with anywhere near the amount of cash projected by Gulati in the bid blather put before king, um, president Sepp Blatter and the 22 members of his executive committee court.

March