Team USA’s 2-1 loss at Trinidad & Tobago last night left the Americans standing outside the door of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It also left Fox, which holds English-speaking rights to the world’s most popular sports event, in full facepalm mode.
The shock defeat — the U.S. gave up two early goals and never recovered — coupled with an unlikely win by Honduras at Mexico and Panama beating Costa Rica, means that Team USA finished fifth in its region that gets three automatic berths, and it will miss the tournament for the first time since 1986. (Panama’s 2-1 victory came on a controversial second-half goal that has some grumbling for the U.S. Soccer Federation to protest the call — check it out for yourself):
Regardless , Team USA’s exit is a big blow to Fox, which in 2011 outbid ESPN and for English-speaking rights to the World Cup, paying $450 million-$500 million for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments — a mega markup over the last English rights deal in 2005. It had signaled that the popularity of the sport has been growing in the U.S. and was sustainable, though Team USA didn’t help much this qualifying campaign with uneven play and early losses that dug a deep hole. It also changed coaches mid-qualifying, jettisoning longtime men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann for Bruce Arena.
Fox already has planned 350 hours of programming tied to the tournament that runs June 14-July 15, including more soccer matches on broadcast TV than the past four World Cups combined. This morning the network put a brave face on it, saying nothing will change despite the U.S. absence:
Last night’s World Cup qualifying results do not change Fox Sports’ passion for the world’s biggest sporting event. While the U.S. was eliminated, the biggest stars in the world from Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo stamped their tickets to Russia on the same day, and will battle teams ranging from Mexico to England that have massive fan bases in America. The World Cup is the greatest sporting event on earth that changes the world for one month every four years, and Fox Sports remains steadfast in our commitment of bringing the games to America for the first time in 2018 and will continue to support the U.S. Soccer Federation as they look ahead to the 2022 World Cup.