NEW YORK (AP) — A former ESPN executive underlined how big money corrupts soccer, testifying in US District Court on Tuesday that his company’s attempt to televise the World Cup was in vain. It may have been sabotaged by two former Fox executives accused of bribing officials to undermine competing shows.
Former ESPN president John Skipper told a New York federal court that ESPN and Univision have jointly offered $900 million — divided equally between the two television giants — for broadcast rights to the two most recent editions of the World Cup, including the one that was finalized. recently in Qatar. .
Despite ESPN’s massive bid for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, FIFA awarded the American English language rights to Fox, which offered even less.
Government lawyers say multimillion-dollar bribes fueled a system of secret, no-bid contracts that allowed corrupt soccer executives to profit from the scheme and eventually allowed Fox to broadcast matches.
Prosecutors allege that the bonuses allowed former Fox executives – Heran Lopez and Carlos Martinez – to obtain confidential information from top soccer officials, including those at FIFA. The information helped Fox secure the rights to American English with a bid of $425 million. Telemundo, a division of Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, won the Spanish-American language rights for about $600 million.
“I was disappointed,” said Skipper. “Actually, I was angry.”
Skipper said he was supposed to be the highest bidder, but the process became increasingly complicated when ESPN’s bid was rejected and soccer officials opened a second round of bidding.
Under cross-examination by defense attorneys, Skipper admitted that he did not know if anything illegal was going on behind the scenes.
New York-based Fox Corp., which was spun off from the International Channels subsidiary during a restructuring in 2019, has denied any involvement in the bribery scandal and is not a defendant in the case.
The company said in a statement that it cooperated fully.
The trial is the latest development in a tangled corruption scandal dating back nearly a decade that has ensnared more than three dozen media and football executives as well as colleagues.
Skipper’s testimony was intended to corroborate the statements of the government’s star witness, Alejandro Burzaco, who testified over the course of 11 days that he and former Fox executives conspired to bribe South American soccer officials to obtain television rights to the southern hemisphere’s biggest annual tournament. , the Copa Libertadores, and aid in terrestrial broadcasting rights to the World Cup, the sport’s most lucrative competition.
Lawyers for López and Martinez maintain that the former executives are being framed, with one defense attorney accusing Burzaco of orchestrating the bribes.
Burzaco is a former business partner of Lopez and Martinez, and heads an Argentinean marketing firm. He has cooperated in previous football corruption investigations since his arrest in 2015 in a bribery case. Critics assert that he cooperates to avoid imprisonment.
Burzaco pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges. He testified in 2017 that the three South Americans on FIFA’s executive board took millions of dollars in bribes to support Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
ESPN initially offered $250 million in 2011 for American English rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, Skipper said. The company raised that to $450 million in a second round. Combined with the proposed Univision contribution, the total came to $900 million.
“We wanted to dismantle the attempt,” he said.
ESPN has held the US broadcast rights to the World Cup since 1994, airing the first soccer sporting event before it was picked up by American audiences. FIFA had to buy airtime to broadcast the tournament in the country.
As the sport’s audience has grown, so has the financial character of the World Cup.
ESPN paid $100 million for the rights to broadcast the sporting event in 2010 and 2014.
Skipper said the dramatic rise spoke to the sporting event’s growing importance.
The World Cup final in December in Qatar, where Argentina beat France In a title-clinching thriller, it was the most-watched football game in the United States, according to television audience ratings.
As a courtesy to helping FIFA develop an increase in soccer viewership, Skipper had hoped that soccer officials would allow ESPN to match or beat competitors’ proposals but was not approached to do so.
To date, more than two dozen people have pleaded guilty and two have been convicted at trial in connection with a US-led investigation into tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks at the highest levels of soccer. Four corporate entities also pleaded guilty. Four other companies have been charged but have reached agreements with the government to avoid prosecution.
Football’s governing body, FIFA, She said she was not involved in any fraud or intrigue and was just a bystander when the scandal unfolded.
However, the scandal has brought the organization into global scrutiny. It has since sought polishing Her image is distorted.
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