A former ESPN executive has highlighted how big money corrupts football, testifying in US District Court on Tuesday that his company’s attempt to televise the World Cup could have been sabotaged by two former Fox executives accused of bribing officials to undermine competing bids.
Former ESPN chairman John Skipper tells New York federal court that ESPN and Univision jointly offered $900 million – split evenly between the two TV giants – for the broadcast rights Americans from the last two World Cups, including the recently completed one in Qatar. .
Despite ESPN’s strong offer for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, FIFA awarded the American English rights to Fox, who offered less.
Government lawyers say millions of dollars in bribes fueled a system of clandestine, no-tender contracts that ‘enabled disloyal football managers to live lives of luxury’ and ultimately enabled Fox to broadcast the games.
Prosecutors allege the payments enabled former Fox executives – Heran Lopez and Carlos Martinez – to obtain confidential information from senior football officials, including those at FIFA. The information helped Fox secure the English-language rights in the United States with a bid of $425 million. Telemundo, a division of NBCUniversal Comcast Corp., won the Spanish language rights in the United States for approximately $600 million.
“I was disappointed,” Skipper said. “Actually, I was angry.”
Skipper said he assumed the highest bidder would win.
The lawsuit is the latest development in a tangled corruption scandal that stretches back nearly a decade and has ensnared more than three dozen executives and associates.
Skipper’s testimony was meant to corroborate statements by star government witness Alejandro Burzaco, who said he and former Fox executives conspired to bribe South American soccer officials for the TV rights to the biggest annual tournament. from the southern hemisphere, the Copa Libertadores; and help land the broadcast rights to the World Cup, the sport’s most lucrative competition.
Lawyers for Lopez and Martinez claimed the former executives were framed, with a defense attorney accusing Burzaco of orchestrating the bribes.
Burzaco, who testified for 11 days, is a former business partner of Lopez and Martinez and ran an Argentine marketing company. He has cooperated with previous football corruption investigations since his arrest in 2015 in a corruption case. Critics claim he is cooperating to avoid jail time.
Burzaco pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges. He testified in 2017 that the three South Americans on FIFA’s executive board received million-dollar bribes to support Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
New York-based Fox Corp., which spun off from a subsidiary of international chains during a 2019 restructuring, has denied involvement in the bribery scandal and is not charged in the case.
The company said in a statement that it has cooperated fully.
Skipper said ESPN originally offered $250 million in 2011 for the American English rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The company increased that amount to $450 million in a second round. Coupled with the proposed contribution from Univision, the total came to $900 million.
The spectacular ride speaks to the growing importance of the sporting event, Skipper said.
“We wanted to blow up the supply,” he said.
So far, more than two dozen people have pleaded guilty and two people have been convicted at trial in a US-led investigation into tens of millions of dollars in bribes. wine and bribes at the highest levels of football. Four corporations also pleaded guilty. Four other companies have been charged but have reached agreements with the government to avoid prosecution.
football governing body, Fifa, said he was not involved in any fraud or conspiracy and was only a spectator while the scandal unfolded.
Nonetheless, the scandal has pushed the organization under global scrutiny. He has since sought to polish its tarnished image.
Last month’s World Cup final in Qatar, where Argentina won over France in a spectacular title shootout, was the most-watched football game in the United States, according to television viewership estimates.
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