In October 2011, FOX blew away offers from ESPN and NBC to win the U.S. rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The network paid something in the neighborhood of $425 million to land a prestige event, which in turn would provide valuable hours of programming in the summer for its Fox Sports 1 and 2 cable platforms.
On the surface it’s a lot of money for soccer, but FOX seemed excited about it. Remember all the hubbub when it promoted Gus Johnson, much to the consternation (and delight) of soccer fans, to be its lead voice?
Last week FIFA honcho Sepp Blatter came out and finally admitted running a World Cup in the summer in Qatar — where temperatures average around 106 degrees — isn’t all that wise of an idea. Shocking, yes. (But no, Qatar earned the 2022 World Cup on its merits, not any sort of bribery, so stop bringing that up.) FIFA is expected to vote next month on formally moving the 2022 World Cup to the winter months in order for Qatar — a country smaller than Connecticut with the population of two million — to build its fleet of lavish stadiums in the desert to dazzle the sporting world.
Bear in mind the average temperature in December for Doha, Qatar is a cool 88 degrees. Yes, FIFA is planning to vote before conducting a research study to project the full impact of a winter World Cup.
Skeptics questioned if the big European soccer leagues would put their feet down to block such a move that would interrupt the club season. Turns out FIFA’s biggest adversary could be FOX, which bought the rights under the assumption the tournament would be staged in its traditional summer window. FOX is mighty pissed it could have its World Cup programming running concurrently with its valuable NFL properties and growing college football portfolio.
Bloomberg quoted anonymous sources on Monday that FOX, along with Premier League executives, are opposed to the winter move.
“FIFA has informed us that they are considering and voting on moving the 2022 World Cup,” Fox said in an e-mailed statement. “Fox Sports bought the World Cup rights with the understanding they would be in the summer as they have been since the 1930s.”
The Mail painted an even more confrontational picture:
The Mail on Sunday has also learned that, contrary to the public claim of FIFA president Sepp Blatter last week that bidders for 2022 agreed only ‘in principle’ to a summer event, the words ‘in principle’ did not appear in tender or bidding documents.
This bombshell revelation highlights the enormous legal complexities ahead. Legally and contractually, Qatar are obliged to stage a summer event that most agree they cannot now stage. But they have no legal or contractual right to stage a winter World Cup in 2022.
Blatter’s plan to quickly shuffle the 2022 event to the winter to quiet all the calls about the heat in Qatar is only going to set up another set of problems for organizers. This looks like it’s heading to a legal battle, should FIFA switch the Qatar World Cup to the winter next month. Television money makes the soccer world go round, so FIFA better be careful in picking its battles. Tuesday morning the chief of soccer in Australia said other bidders that lost out to Qatar deserve compensation should they move the tournament to the winter.
Does FOX alone have enough clout to stop FIFA’s plan for a winter World Cup? Possibly. It’s not quite on the level of NBC throwing its weight around to dictate policy at the Olympics — hello tape delays! — but FOX should hold major sway, along with some good lawyers. Although traditionally television decisions are made with Western Europe in mind when it comes to soccer, by 2022 (or even now) America is a market FIFA can’t ignore. In America, a winter World Cup would be overshadowed by all the other sports going on at the same time.
This could eventually boil down to: protecting players in the Qatar summer heat vs. protecting FOX’s NFL and NCAA football contracts.
Let’s do a quick refresher course. Since winning the rights to the 2022 event Qatar has been dogged by questions of corruption, the heat , human rights violations, anti-gay policies and now this potential legal fight with broadcasters and clubs should the event get moved to the winter.
Yep, staging a World Cup in Qatar sounds exactly as dumb as it did when the bid was announced in 2010. Well, actually, with the gymnastics FIFA has engaged in to avoid the heat and enrage various important partners, even dumber.