The media rights to the World Cup were won by Fox with classified inside information, a federal witness says
Fox Sports used classified, inside information in 2011 to secure television rights to the World Cup in the United States, according to Federal Court testimony shared with The New York Times.
Justice Department witness Alejandro Burzaco, a former banker and sports marketing executive, has admitted to working as a go-between between FIFA and Fox, the latter of which successfully outbid ESPN and NBC in what was supposed to be a blind auction. Fox has since broadcast the 2018 World Cup from Russia and the 2022 World Cup from Qatar. Likewise, the family of networks, owned by Rupert Murdoch, will broadcast the 2026 World Cup in North America.
As the Times reported, Burzaco testified on Friday that he was an intermediary between then-Fox International director Hernán López and FIFA professor Julio Grondona.
“He said, ‘If Fox bets $400 million, then it will win,’ Burzaco said in federal court, referring to Grondona.
Assistant US Attorney Megan Farrell on stage, far right interrogates government witness Alejandro Burzaco, on witness stand, Wednesday
Fox eventually won the supposedly blind auction with a $400 million bid.
Burzaco testified earlier Wednesday that Lopez and Carlos Martinez, another Fox executive, had conspired to bribe South American soccer officials for the TV rights to the southern hemisphere’s largest annual tournament, the Copa Libertadores, and broadcast rights to the sport’s most lucrative competition, the World Cup.
“The bribes served that purpose perfectly,” Burzaco testified.
Lawyers for Lopez and Martinez have alleged that the former executives are being framed, with one attorney accusing Burzaco of masterminding the bribe.
During his first day on the witness stand Wednesday, Burazco told the court about the sham contracts put in place with football officials to funnel the bribes.
He said the payments Lopez and Martinez allegedly made to South American Football Confederation officials helped Fox squeeze out competitors and secured rights to tournaments at a cost below market price.
Alejandro Burzaco (center) exits the U.S. District Courthouse in Brooklyn on September 18, 2015 in New York. Burzaco was due to appear in court on bribery and corruption charges linked to the massive FIFA scandal
Born in Argentina, Lopez is the former CEO of Fox International Channels and later operated a podcasting venture. Martinez, a native of Mexico, ran the broadcaster’s Latin American affiliate.
Another sports media and marketing company, Full Play Group SA, is on trial with Lopez and Martinez, but the allegations of bribery against that company relate to several TV rights. Uruguay-based Full Play is accused of paying bribes for the rights to the Copa America, a quadrennial national team competition, as well as World Cup qualifiers.
New York-based Fox Corp., which spun off from a subsidiary of international broadcasters during a 2019 restructuring, has denied any involvement in the bribery scandal and is not a defendant in the case.
The company said in a statement that it fully cooperated and respects the legal process, noting that the international channels were part of what was then known as 21st Century Fox before the corporate reshuffle.
“This case concerns a legacy company that has no connection with the new FOX Corporation,” the statement said.
As the Times reported, Burzaco testified on Friday that he was an intermediary between then-Fox International director Hernán López and FIFA professor Julio Grondona (pictured)
So far, more than two dozen people have pleaded guilty and two people 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 level of football. Four corporate entities have also pleaded guilty. Four other companies were charged but reached agreements with the government to avoid prosecution.
The governing body of the football world, FIFA, has said it was not involved in any fraud or conspiracies and was merely a spectator as the scandal unfolded.
Nevertheless, the scandal brought the organization under scrutiny worldwide. It has since sought to polish its tarnished image.
Last month’s World Cup final in Qatar, where Argentina triumphed over France in a dramatic shootout to clinch the title, was the most-watched soccer match ever in the United States, according to television audience estimates.
Former Fox executive Hernan Lopez (center) arrives at court in New York’s Brooklyn borough
During opening arguments Tuesday, assistant attorney Victor Zapana told jurors that millions of dollars in bribes fueled a system of clandestine no-bid contracts that allowed “disloyal football executives to live a life of luxury.”
Prosecutors allege that the payouts enabled Lopez and Martinez to allow Fox to obtain confidential information from high-ranking football officials, including those at FIFA, which led to their $425 million bid to cover rival ESPN and win U.S. broadcast rights to the 2018 World Cup. and 2022 to secure. cups.
Burzaco is a former business partner of the two men and ran an Argentine marketing company. He has cooperated in previous football corruption cases following his own arrest for bribery in 2015 in a bid, his critics claim, to avoid jail time.
Burzaco has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges. He testified in 2017 that all three South Americans on FIFA’s executive committee took multimillion-dollar bribes to support Qatar’s bid for the recently completed 2022 World Cup.