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ABC\ESPN, Univision pay record $425 million for men's, women's Cups through 2014.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Wednesday, November 2, 2005) -- Calling it "the biggest TV deal in a single country in FIFA's history," world governing body FIFA announced a $425 million deal for World Cup television rights in the United States from 2007 to 2014.

Under the agreement, the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, the 2007 and 2011 Women's World Cups, and the 2009 and 2013 Confederations Cups will be broadcast in English in the U.S. by the Walt Disney Company-owned ABC and ESPN networks, and in Spanish by Univision.

In a joint bid, ABC\ESPN paid $100 million for the rights package for the broadcast rights in English, while Univision paid $325 million for the Spanish-language rights.

According to the FIFA press release, "the two networks (ABC\ESPN and Univision) have been awarded the TV rights to all FIFA events for the U.S. territory from 2007 to 2014, including the two FIFA World Cup final competitions within this period. This impressive new agreement covers a wide range of media categories, including multimedia broadband internet and mobile telephony."

ABC\ESPN, which already will broadcast all the 64 World Cup matches from the 2006 Germany next summer live -- and in high definition -- has indicated that it will broadcast all games in 2010 and 2014.

Next year's World Cup in Germany will be played from June 9 through July 9. ABC\ESPN will announce its broadcast schedule after the World Cup draw December 9 in Leipzig, Germany.

"During the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups, ABC Sports will air at least 10 matches live, including the Final," an ESPN press release said. "All remaining matches will be aired live on ESPN or ESPN2. Every match will be available in high definition and ESPN will feature a nightly FIFA World Cup highlight show throughout the month-long tournament."

The 2010 men's World Cup will be played in South Africa and the 2014 quadrennial tournament will be hosted by a South American nation, with Brazil the favorite to be the host. The 2007 Women's World Cup will be contested in China.

Only four years ago, there was a real possibility that only Spanish-language broadcasts of the 2002 World Cup would be available in the U.S. Then, Soccer United Marketing, Major League Soccer's marketing arm, owned by a some league and outside investors, paid $40 million for the U.S. English rights to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, next year's World Cup in Germany and the 2003 Women's World Cup, originally scheduled for China but moved to the U.S.

In the existing pact, SUM was essentially allowed to air its games for free on ABC\ESPN while covering productions costs. Both sides would provide marketing and sell advertising with revenues split by an unspecified formula.

SUM actually bought the rights from German media giant Kirch, which was near bankruptcy when the deal was struck. SUM then entered into the revenue-sharing agreement with ABC\ESPN to assure the games of those three events would be broadcast in English in the U.S.

The new contract represents a huge increase from the last U.S. broadcasting contract for both English and Spanish-language telecasts. Univision holds the Spanish-language U.S. rights for 2002-06 for which it paid $125 million.

"This deal shows to the American public how valuable this property is finally being recognized as," U.S. Soccer Federation director of communications Jim Moorhouse told SoccerTimes. "The fact that there was a bidding war and an increase in rights fees show how committed ABC\ESPN is to this property."

Among other elements of the new deal, ESPN plans to re-air matches in their entirety or in cut-down versions through ESPN on Demand. ESPN The Magazine will contribute to ESPN's FIFA World Cup coverage with dedicated preview issues, features and other editorial.

"ABC\ESPN and Univision came to us with a comprehensive package that will not only guarantee coverage of the FIFA World Cup in 2010 and 2014 and all other FIFA tournaments in the men's and women's games, but also promote football and the FIFA brand even at those times when no tournaments are taking place," FIFA president Joseph S. Blatter said in his organization's press release. "With these two well-known companies, we have ensured that images of our events will be seen by the widest possible audience across the USA's steadily growing football market. I am extremely happy with this momentous deal. It is a major milestone in our new TV approach."

FIFA's new media approach is to sell rights on a country by country (or regional) basis, rather than world-wide rights which were sold to Kirch for 2002-2006. "We are moving from a global (World Cup) TV offer to a continental offer," Jerome Valcke, FIFA's director of TV and marketing told a recent soccer marketing convention held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

At the time, Valcke said it was FIFA's hope that World Cup matches would continue to be shown on free (or cable) TV around the world, but said that "free-to-air viewing will be the cornerstone, but we will also be selling packages combining free with pay-TV."

FIFA's bid packages for the 2010 Men's World Cup sought to guarantee that at least 22 of the 64 matches will be on free TV along with a daily free highlights package.

"ESPN and ABC Sports will immerse fans in the drama and pageantry of the FIFA World Cup for another eight years, bringing them closer to the worlds premier sporting event with cutting-edge technology and our collection of leading multimedia assets," ESPN executive vice president for content John Skipper said in his comoany's release. "We will also grow the FIFA Womens World Cup with unprecedented coverage across all of our content outlets."

It appears that SUM did not bid for the new broadcast rights; rather, it assisted and participated in the negotiations in part because MLS is in the process of reaching a new agreement with ABC\ESPN to carry its league matches in the future. MLS is hopeful that, for the first time, the new league contract will carry rights fees.

"In the immediate and long-term future, today's news will prove to be a historical turning point for the sport," MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement released by e-mail. "These recent developments further solidify soccer's standing and value as a major television property in the United States with even greater future potential."

ABC\ESPN televised live 58 of the 64 matches of the 2002 World Cup with the title game on ABC, 16 on ESPN and the rest on ESPN2. Because of the 13-hour time difference between the Cup venues and the U.S. East Coast, games were shown during the early a.m. hours.

Every game of the 1998 World Cup in France was broadcast live with ABC televising 14, ESPN 27 and ESPN2 23.

Managing editor Gary Davidson contributed to this report.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com.

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