In what is a fairly stunning move Fox has won the rights to the English language broadcasts in the USA of all FIFA events from 2015-2022. This will include the signature events of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, as well as the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada and the 2019 Women's World Cup which has yet to be awarded to a host nation. There are also reports that NBCUniversal's American Spanish platforms headed by Telemundo won the rights for Spanish language coverage within the United States. In both cases this is a shift from the long time holders. ESPN had the English rights, while Univision had Spanish.
NBC recently reached an agreement with MLS for a new three year deal to carry the the League on both over-air and cable. Many had thought this was going to be a bit of leverage towards FIFA and a shot at the World Cup. Instead they will have as their top soccer property for the foreseeable future will be the American league. ESPN has already issued a statement that they remain committed to all of their soccer properties, to include MLS. Both the ESPN and NBC MLS deals run through 2014.
For a network that has subjugated the sport of soccer to one of the deepest of cable options, or tape delay in an era of instant news to win future rights to the World Cup must mean that the contract value was substantial. Fox has recently bumped some of their coverage of the UEFA Champions League to their main network, but the ratings struggled and coverage featured several of their NFL experts attempting to get up to speed. Now, their first major event is 4 years away, so assumptions of how they will cover things are too early.
Signs though are not positive. FoxSoccer routinely calls games from a studio in LA rather than live (see CCL, Serie A, others). Surely, they would not do this for the World Cup, but for the less followed events such as the U-17 and U-20 versions it would seem certain. Their coverage of women's soccer will be a very intriguing event. This is a network that gained initial fame through "Married with Children" and that still routinely uses sex to sell their female contestants on their reality programming. Again, Fox has 4 years to figure out how they are going to do something they have yet to do - treat soccer like a major sport.
The impact this has on coverage of MLS won't be known for years. The domestic league will no longer have a natural connection to World Cup broadcast coverage in English. On ESPN MLS is clearly second or third fiddle among soccer coverage. The dreams of MLS on NBC helping generate higher ratings and greater interest should be unaffected by this change in World Cup coverage for 2018/22. In the short term MLS is on two English language networks that already treat the league better than Fox. In 2015 it is completely unknown who will have the rights. That will be determined by the ratings and TV landscape after MLS is actually available on a broadcast network for a handful of games a year.
Soccer in America's future is not bleaker because of this news. It is merely unknown. With three years remaining on World Cup and MLS rights on more familiar sports properties the near term is fairly bright. What the future holds is just unknowable. Seven years ago did you think you'd be watching the NFLRedZone on your phone?