FIFA quietly extended the broadcast rights for the 2026 World Cup to Fox Sports and NBCUniversal's Telemundo -- a surprise to multiple competing networks that were hoping to make a run at the increasingly popular event.
Fox and Telemundo in 2011 outbid rivals ESPN, NBC and Univision to win the TV rights for the 2018 and 2022 rounds of the prestigious soccer tournament.
Fox Sports at that time agreed to pay about $425 million for the two tournaments, while Telemundo shelled out about $600 million for the Spanish-language rights for both cycles, beating out longtime incumbent Univision Communications.
Viewership for the 2014 World Cup was massive, dramatically increasing the value of the tournament to U.S. broadcasters.
The combined viewership on ESPN and Univision for one game -- a match between the U.S. team and Portugal -- attracted nearly 25 million people, according to ESPN.
That's why the television networks were eager to try to regain the rights. But this week, FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, extended the 2011 deal -- without taking bids from other broadcasters.
In an announcement posted to the FIFA website, the organization provided no explanation or financial details concerning the contract extension. The organization noted that the new deal covered the FIFA World Cup 2026 and FIFA Women's World Cup 2023.
ESPN would have liked an opportunity to bid for the 2026 rights, according to a statement issued Friday afternoon.
"Considering the high quality presentation that ESPN demonstrated and the exposure we brought to FIFA events through all our platforms, it was surprising and disappointing to learn of this when the [FIFA] press release was issued," ESPN said in a statement.
ESPN declined additional comment.
Univision did not mince words.
"We were not invited to participate in the process and find it curious that FIFA would think keeping the No. 1 Hispanic media company in the U.S. out of a competitive bidding process is good for the growth of soccer in the U.S.," Univision spokeswoman Esther Mireya Tejeda said in an e-mail.
Univision held World Cup TV rights from 1978 through 2014.
Fox Sports and NBCUniversal declined on Friday to provide details on the circumstances surrounding the negotiations to amend their deals with FIFA.
"We were offered the opportunity to extend our current Telemundo rights, and we're happy we were able to do so," an NBC Sports spokesman said in an email to The Times.
FIFA did not respond to a request for comment.
Fox Sports, in a statement, said it was "truly honored" to be awarded the extension.
"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," Fox Sports said in its statement.