Witness Says Fox Used Inside Information to Win World Cup Rights

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Instead, Farrell has focused on the long and tortured relationship between the Argentine firm Burzaco led, Torneos y Competencias, and the Fox unit with which it had entered into a joint venture to control soccer rights. What started as bribes to a handful of South American soccer officials had, by 2011, expanded to nearly a dozen men who threatened to cancel lucrative contracts for the popular Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana tournaments — which had been sold for far under market value — if they did not receive their annual bribes.

In 2010, Burzaco said, he told López about the bribes at a beachside hotel in Florida, where both men had traveled to watch the Super Bowl. Burzaco testified that he told López a second time during a meeting in Fox’s corporate headquarters in midtown Manhattan later that year. In 2012, after Martínez took over the unit’s Latin American operations, Burzaco said he filled him in on the bribes over coffee at a Dean & DeLuca cafe in Rockefeller Center.

One of the primary recipients of bribes was Grondona, who at the time served as a FIFA vice president, the chairman of the soccer body’s finance committee and the president of the Argentine soccer association. According to Burzaco’s testimony, when FIFA in October 2011 opened bidding for the English language rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, López reached out to him to tell him Fox planned to bid. López, Burzaco said, then asked him to reach out to Grondona “to let him know that any help would be welcome.”

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Burzaco, eager to help his primary commercial partner, which helped keep Torneos solvent by hiring it to produce sports content throughout Latin America, did as he was asked. Grondona, he recalled, said he would do what he could but that it would be difficult because FIFA was under intense scrutiny in the wake of its controversial votes a year earlier awarding World Cups to Russia (in 2018) and Qatar. Regardless, Grondona soon relayed the news that the rights were as good as Fox’s.

“Mr. López was very excited,” Burzaco recalled on the stand, saying López called it his “best accomplishment within Fox.” According to Burzaco, a number of other Fox officials, including Chase Carey, then in line to take over the company, and the Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch himself all expressed delight at having acquired the prize.

As for Grondona, he summoned Burzaco for a private meeting in Buenos Aires immediately after awarding the World Cup rights to Fox.

“‘Look, Alejandro, I did this favor to you and Fox,’” Burzaco recalled him saying. “‘But this is the last time I do it for free.’”

Grondona, who had been one of the primary targets of the Justice Department investigation, died of an aortic aneurysm in July 2014. Seven months later, FIFA announced that Fox had been awarded rights to the 2026 World Cup, too. This time, ESPN hadn’t even been allowed to bid.

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