The U.S. English-language broadcast rights for World Cups 2018 and '22 were up for auction last week and ESPN, which will have aired every Cup from 1994 to 2014 (See Landon Donovan in '10, below), was the heavy favorite, having earned rave reviews for its coverage the past two years. But Fox outbid ESPN with a reported $450 million to $500 million offer. Yes, the heavy competition and a combined U.S. rights fee of some $1 billion (with $600 million from Telemundo; up from $425 million total for the previous two Cups) offers proof that the sport has gone mainstream in the U.S., but less clear are the implications of Fox's victory on the growth of American soccer. As part of its last rights buy, ESPN promised that it would commit to U.S. and Major League Soccer, the latter a ratings vacuum. But now will ESPN care about the sport after 2014, when those deals expire? Or will Fox, which lost MLS rights from '12 to '15 have any interest in MLS?
Then there's the actual broadcasts. Based on Fox's handling of the UEFA Champions League final in May, the network has a long way to go to catch ESPN when it comes to smart, high-quality coverage. Fox-owned Sky Sports does, however, provide topflight coverage in Europe, and that should offer American fans some reason for optimism. Plenty can happen in seven years.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (DONOVAN)