US World Cup dis­as­ter spells bad news for Fox

Business Day - - SPORT DAY -

Does Don­ald Trump watch Fox Sports? Does he watch foot­ball? Soc­cer, not foot­ball, that is. He watches Amer­i­can foot­ball, or at least the an­thems. He most cer­tainly watches Fox News. Would he have spared a mo­ment for the peo­ple at Fox Sports this week?

In 2011, they signed a deal with Fifa for the English­language rights to broad­cast both the 2018 and 2022 Soc­cer World Cups in the US for more than $400m.

On Tues­day night, the US men’s foot­ball team lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago and failed to qual­ify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Fox Sports ex­ec­u­tives would have spat the dummy. ESPN ex­ec­u­tives would have been for­given a small smile. Fox bid four times as much as ESPN did for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. And then the US made sure that there is no home team for them to cheer on.

The US na­tional men’s team are known by the roll-off-thetongue moniker of USMNT, prob­a­bly to make sure no one mis­takes them for the women’s team, the one that wins World Cups and Olympic medals.

On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, Fox Sports would have taken a call from Ver­i­zon and Volk­swa­gen, which had signed deals to spon­sor the half­time and post-match shows on the chan­nel.

Mind you, per­haps Fox won’t suf­fer all that much. Just to the tune of about $10m to $20m, which, as The New York Times sug­gested, “rep­re­sents a neg­li­gi­ble amount for Fox”.

The New York Times noted that Fox had al­ready signed 75% of its mar­quee spon­sors, al­though there may be view­er­ship and rat­ings tar­gets in those con­tracts. The USMNT matches would have at­tracted big­ger au­di­ences for Fox, given that “most games from Rus­sia will be broad­cast in the mid­dle of the night or in the early morn­ing in the US, which was known at the time of bid­ding and could be ac­counted for. Miss­ing out on a min­i­mum of three matches for the US was nearly un­think­able.”

A World Cup with­out Ar­gentina would have been un­think­able. On Tues­day night, after they had con­ceded a goal in­side the first minute, Lionel Messi turned to his team­mates: “Here, hold my beer.”

Three goals later and all those hor­rid thoughts the Ar­gen­tinian public had about Messi were ban­ished. Messi even ended the boy­cott of speak­ing to the me­dia that the team in­sti­tuted in De­cem­ber be­cause a jour­nal­ist sug­gested Eze­quiel Lavezzi had been dropped by Ar­gentina for a match after he had been smok­ing dagga.

“It would have been a crazy World Cup with­out Ar­gentina,” said Messi, who by this stage had pre­sum­ably got a new beer.

“This group didn’t de­serve it … we are calm now after achiev­ing the main goal — that is the most im­por­tant thing. All this time that we were away from the press, the fans helped us to be closer.”

One fan was happy the USMNT got knocked out. Jack Warner, cur­rently of Trinidad, once of Concacaf, pocketer of South African cash and banned for life from foot­ball, was wetyour-pants happy. “I wanted to party,” he told a Trinidad ra­dio sta­tion. “I have not been in bet­ter spirits. This is the hap­pi­est day of my life.”

Warner still faces 12 charges re­lat­ing to rack­e­teer­ing and bribery by US ju­di­cial of­fi­cials. He has been fight­ing ex­tra­di­tion to front up to those charges.

“They have used their govern­ment to help to dis­mem­ber Fifa in a way that is unimag­in­able. And last night on the field of play Trinidad and Tobago re­duced them to their knees,” said Warner, who be­lieves that a Fifa with­out him­self and Sepp Blat­ter is unimag­in­able and the only dis­mem­ber­ing that has hap­pened is that some of the more bla­tant thieves have been told to sling their hook.

There is still a stench about Fifa that will not go away.

The Qatar World Cup in 2022 may not sur­vive even the des­per­a­tion of Fifa to have it hap­pen.

Rus­sian foot­ball of­fi­cials would not co-op­er­ate with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion that have dogged their bid to host the event and con­se­quent vic­tory to host the fi­nals in 2018.

There will be no USMNT play­ing in 2018. Will Don­ald Trump be watch­ing the World Cup? Well, it is in Rus­sia.



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