This summer’s edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup is the last in the current US TV rights deal. FOX Sports picked up the rights to the 2015 tournament, airing both that and 2019. There is growing speculation that the 2027 tournament will be in North America. That tournament will not be in a bundle with the men’s World Cup. Therefore, this presents a lucrative opportunity for American broadcasters.
With this in mind, FOX will undoubtedly face serious competition for the 2027 rights to the Women’s World Cup. Still, it remains in the pole position to retain this competition.
FOX Sports aired both the 2015 and 2019 editions of the competition. Fortunately for FOX, the USWNT won both. From our vantage point, though, FOX did a terrific job presenting the 2015 tournament in Canada. That standard of coverage slipped for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
The broadcaster has its fair share of critics in the US Soccer landscape. It continues to shell out millions on rights fees for sports. However, there is a growing sense that FOX faces a difficult road in the international soccer landscape. Its current deals expire with the 2026 World Cup, joint-hosted by Canada, Mexico and the United States.
It can be strongly argued FOX has done better with Women’s World Cup coverage than that of men’s edition. Nonetheless, many fans in the United States want to see FOX lose the rights. Despite these complaints, FOX expanded its portfolio of international soccer competition rights recently. Long-term incumbent ESPN lost out on the UEFA international competitions.
Who could take the competition away from FOX? The options seem plentiful. In reality, FOX remains a favorite. But let’s look at each of the potential new destinations for the Women’s World Cup.
Contenders for the 2027 Women’s World Cup rights
An assumption exists among many soccer fans that ESPN would be the favorite to regain the rights to the 2027 Women’s World Cup. The broadcaster televised FIFA tournaments from 1991 through 2014. Therefore, it can get back into the fray for both the men’s and women’s competitions. That is simply not the case at the moment. ESPN’s parent company, Disney, has been struggling financially. ESPN lost out on rights to several sports properties recently. Notably, that includes the Big Ten Conference. Also, ESPN reportedly will not bid for Pac-12 rights. Andrew Marchand of the New York Post wrote about the significance of that.
“ESPN passed on the Big Ten, Sunday Ticket, Premier League, Champions League, and MLS, so the idea that it will be completely out on the Pac-12 is not in the least bit surprising,” Marchand said. “Things can always change, and maybe the Pac-12 can figure out a creative way to get ESPN involved, but right now, that seems very unlikely.”
In soccer, ESPN spent a great deal to gain LaLiga rights for the period from 2021 to 2029. Everything else, though, has been a struggle. In addition, I would not be surprised in the least if the Bundesliga chooses to move on from ESPN. That rights deal expires in June 2025.
Given this current landscape it seems unlikely ESPN would have the resources to both acquire the rights and to properly broadcast the competition.
NBC Sports has excelled in its broadcasts of the Premier League. It whiffed, though, on retaining rights to England’s top women’s soccer league, the Women’s Super League. Consequently, NBC showed little interest in broadcasting other soccer competitions.
However, this week’s 7v7 “The Soccer Tournament” has been broadcast exclusively in English on NBC platforms. At the least, that shows NBC’s commitment to filling summer holes with programming.
Assuming NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service continues to grow, the Women’s World Cup could provide a nice platform to mix streaming and broadcast in the Summer of 2027. Also, NBCUniversal definitely wants to keep its Spanish-language rights. NBCUniversal’s Telemundo and Universo will broadcast its third successive Women’s World Cup in Spanish this summer.
Creating the obvious synergies between English- and Spanish-language coverage in the US would be one very attractive card for NBC Sports to play in negotiations with FIFA.
Paramount Global’s CBS Sports division has been aggressively pursuing soccer properties in the US market. Truthfully, it is forgoing other sports properties in the process. CBS Sports has its mainstays. For example, it broadcasts the NFL, NCAA Basketball and PGA Tour. Most recently, it acquired a piece of the Big Ten football rights. Otherwise, it’s all-in on soccer at CBS Sports.
In the women’s space, CBS is the established market leader. Currently, it shows the NWSL, WSL, select Women’s UEFA competitions and an assortment of other women’s matches from Europe. The Women’s World Cup would be a logical extension of CBS’ recent dominance of women’s soccer properties.
CBS has four platforms it can use to show matches. The CBS OTA channel primarily broadcasts select UEFA Champions League matches and the occasional NWSL fixture. Second, CBS Sports Network shows a potpourri of soccer. Then, the new CBS Sports Golazo channel broadcasts spillover live matches in various competitions for free. Finally, Paramount+ is the well-known streaming service.
Word in the industry is that Paramount+ is very dependent on shows such as 1883 and Yellowstone to drive subscriptions. Sports content beyond soccer is effectively limited to competitions also airing on CBS’s linear channels. CBS doesn’t have an inventory of matches or tournaments from US sports leagues or college conferences to dump on its streaming platform that competitors have. This property could be especially lucrative.
Having made a big move into soccer in the last four years, CBS seems poised to make even more moves. it probably presents FOX’s biggest competition to keep English-language rights.
WarnerDiscovery’s Max streaming service and cable channels TNT and TBS already broadcast the USWNT. Therefore, it would be a decent landing spot for the competition. However, it seems unlikely at this moment. The Warner-Discovery yielded a clear coverage roadmap that would please FIFA. Additionally, would WarnerDiscovery have the desire to launch a lucrative bid for a one-off competition? Maybe, but it appears they’re probably not a serious contender at this moment.
Apple’s big gambit on MLS shows a long-term commitment to soccer. Also, the tech is willing to splash cash to blow traditional broadcasters out of the water in terms of rights fees. Ultimately, launching a bid might depend on the success of MLS Season Pass. Can it drive subscribers to Apple TV+ and prove lucrative in stimulating more sales of Apple hardware?
Additionally, Apple might want to bid for the rights in more than just the United States market. That could prove either lucrative or a hindrance for FIFA, depending on how much money they can generate from potential bidders around the world, particularly in western Europe.
Amazon Prime has to be considered a leading contender for any special event US-based sports rights going forward. It has the bandwidth and cash to make this happen. The broadcaster’s experience in the Premier League where they handle special event days with simultaneous kickoffs in the UK market has been met with rave reviews, as has its coverage of US sports in the US market.
My assumption is Amazon would want both the English- and Spanish-language rights to the 2027 Women’s World Cup. It would almost certainly take one or the other if that’s all it could acquire.
I keep mentioning DAZN as a potential contender for rights. If anything, that seems for posterity’s sake. But, DAZN is still a player in some major international markets. Moreover, it does air the UEFA Women’s Champions League globally. Chances are, they will not be a serious actor in bidding.
In conclusion, I believe FOX has a decent chance of retaining the rights, with CBS and potentially Apple and Amazon the biggest competition as it appears at the moment. Things, however, change on a dime in the media and streaming industries so watch this space in the coming months. A great deal can and likely will change.
PHOTO: IMAGO / PA Images
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