Friday, October 14, 2011

Grant Wahl: World Cup rights bidding to have major implications for U.S. soccer

Next Wednesday is one of the most important days of the next decade for soccer in the United States. That's when bids are due in Zürich, Switzerland, for the U.S. broadcast rights for World Cups '18 and '22. ESPN, NBC and Fox are expected to bid for the English-language rights, while Univisión and NBC-owned Telemundo are expected to be in competition for the Spanish-language rights. After the bids are submitted on Wednesday -- there will be no formal presentations, as there were for the Olympic rights bids earlier this year -- the FIFA executive committee will meet on Thursday and could reach a decision on the winners as soon as that day.

Why do the World Cup rights bids matter so much for soccer here? The winners will be committed to helping build the audience for the sport through 2022, which is no small thing. ESPN, which paid $100 million for the English-language rights for World Cups '10 and '14, made the 2010 World Cup one of the company's top priorities last year. It promoted the event heavily, received positive reviews for its coverage and reaped the rewards: The U.S.-Ghana second round game, for example, drew a total U.S. audience of 19.4 million, more than all but two games of the '09 World Series and all but Game 7 of the '10 NBA Finals. Audiences should be even bigger for World Cup 2014 in Brazil, not least because many of the games will be taking place during prime time on U.S. television.

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