World Cup’s U.S. Rights Go To …


The World Cup draw has been set. Not the groupings for Germany 2006 — the U.S. TV rights.

Fédération Internationale de Football Association last week squared up its United States television partners well into the next decade, signing deals totaling $425 million with Univision and ESPN/ABC Sports for the rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. Also included are the women’s tournaments in 2007 and 2011, plus 11 other competitions and events.

In what the sport’s governing body called a record deal for a single country’s rights pacts, Univision allocated some $325 million, almost double its $175 million outlay, for a package from 2002-06.

ESPN/ABC Sports will pay about $100 million. The Walt Disney Co. unit’s current World Cup rights, which expire with the 2006 competition, did not require a fee. The networks obtained those rights from Philip Anschutz’s Soccer United Marketing — Major League Soccer’s marketing unit — in exchange for carrying MLS matches on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. SUM spent about $40 million for those World Cup rights.

Executives in the FIFA, Univision and Disney camps were happy with the agreement — unlike their counterparts at NBC Universal, News Corp. and Comcast Corp.

NBC and its Spanish-language network, Telemundo, reportedly made a $300 million pass for all of the U.S. TV rights. That bid was said to be initially favored by FIFA’s finance committee before additional offers were fielded from the networks.

Telemundo wanted the rights to help close the gap against bigger rival Univision. Similarly, Fox hoped to use World Cup events to bolster the position of its Fox Soccer Channel.

According to an executive at one of the bidding networks, the broadcast network, flanked by Fox Sports Net affiliates and the dedicated fùtbol service, also made a bid as a means to boost the latter’s distribution base. That bid was reported to be in the $80 million range.

Fox officials declined to comment.

Comcast was also said to be in the contest at one point, through a bid that had a broadcast alignment with NBC, according to a programming executive familiar with the talks. A Comcast official didn’t return calls by press time.

FIFA director of marketing and TV Jerome Valcke, on a conference call announcing the deal last Wednesday, cited ESPN’s “multimedia reach” as its edge.

In addition to coverage of World Cup matches, the agreement covers a range of promotional responsibilities for the properties and platforms, including Internet, broadband and mobile telephony.

ESPN will also be able to offer truncated versions of the matches on demand, according to terms of the deal.