FIFA Grants 2026 World Cup to Fox Sports Without Bidding War, Triggering Widespread Speculation

In a shocking move, FIFA declined to allow ESPN and others to bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Instead, soccer’s governing body extended its current media-rights agreements in the U.S. and Canada with Fox Sports (English language), NBCUniversal’s Telemundo (Spanish language), and CTV/TSN in Canada, which will continue to hold exclusive broadcast rights to FIFA competitions through 2026.

The extended agreements cover the following tournaments in addition to the 2026 FIFA World Cup: FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023 and 2025, FIFA U-17 World Cup 2023 and 2025, FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2023 and 2025, FIFA Futsal World Cup 2024, FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2024 and 2026, FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2024 and 2026, and FIFA Confederations Cup 2025.

“These agreements guarantee wide distribution for FIFA tournaments across the U.S. and Canada. Together, we will be able to further promote football in North America and build on the impressive interest shown by audiences in these major territories during the 2014 FIFA World Cup,” said FIFA Director of TV Niclas Ericson in a press release.

According to the New York Times, which cites an unnamed executive, ESPN received no advance warning that the 2026 rights were being sold. The paper speculates that the agreement might herald the move of the 2026 tournament — which will be held in Qatar — from summer to winter.

The last time FIFA awarded broadcast rights was 2011, writes Business Insider, when Fox outbid ESPN for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. That time around, FIFA had Fox, NBC, and ESPN present their bids in Zurich.

Fox Sports released a statement on the deal: “We are truly honored that FIFA has elected to extend Fox Sports’ rights to the portfolio of FIFA events including the FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women’s World Cup through 2026. These events are some of the world’s most important sports competitions, and it is our privilege to be entrusted with these rights in the United States. We’re looking forward to the kickoff of FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 in June with great anticipation.”

According to Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports has declined to comment further, instead referring all inquiries to FIFA. SI echoes the New York Times in supposing that the agreement could be a “make-good for the shift in the Qatar tournament,” which would hurt North American-rights holders, given the loaded winter sports calendar.

The addition of the 2023-26 FIFA cycle by Fox and Telemundo is reminiscent of moves NBC has made over the years whereby it gained more rights to the 2004, 2006, and 2008 Olympic Games without competition from other media companies, writes Multichannel News. Last spring, Comcast programming arm NBCUniversal reached a new multiplatform deal with the International Olympic Committee for rights from 2021 through the Winter Games in 2032, also without a bidding process.