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Matildas’ success sparks Australian media rights battle for 2026 men’s World Cup

Record viewership for the women's team expected to entice FTA broadcasters into a bidding war.

14 August 2023 Josh Sim
Matildas goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold

Getty Images

  • Incumbent broadcaster SBS paid AUS$40m for the 2018 and 2022 men’s World Cup
  • FTA networks have right of first refusal for tournament games featuring the Socceroos and the final under federal anti-siphoning laws
  • SBS, Seven, Nine and Network Ten all expected to bid for the rights

Australia’s free-to-air (FTA) broadcasters are set to battle it out for the broadcast rights to the men’s 2026 Fifa World Cup and the 2027 Women’s World Cup after Fifa opened the tender process for both tournaments. 

The men’s World Cup has been shown by the public service broadcaster (PSB) Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) since 1990, with the broadcaster paying AUS$20 million (US$13 million) each for the 2018 and 2022 editions in Russia and Qatar.

In contrast to the women’s tournament, tournament games featuring the Socceroos and the final are protected by federal anti-siphoning laws, meaning FTA broadcasters have first refusal of buying the rights before any pay-TV network or streaming service. However, FTA networks are not obligated to show every game for free, allowing networks to put matches on their respective streaming services.

Interest in the global soccer competition’s rights is expected to be high, given the giant viewing figures amassed for the Australian national team, known as the Matildas, at the ongoing Women’s World Cup. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), the rights are predicted to be valued at significantly more than the AUS$20 million (US$13 million) SBS has paid for the past two tournaments.

The 2026 edition, which will be held in Canada, Mexico and the US, will see games played at a much more favourable time zone for Australian viewers compared to the previous two tournaments. There will also be 40 more matches contested with the number of teams expanding to 48 teams from 32.

As well as the 2026 and 2027 competitions, the tender issued by Fifa also includes an invitation for broadcasters to bid for the 2030 World Cup and the 2031 Women’s World Cup respectively.

SportsPro says…

The splintered nature of Australia’s soccer rights landscape could lead to an intense battle among networks, with all recognising the huge audience and commercial potential of the tournament partly thanks to the Matildas’ success.

Incumbent broadcaster SBS is keen to retain its position as the men’s World Cup rightsholder. It is reported by SMH to be banking on its positive relationship with Fifa, as well as its past success showing the tournament, to put itself ahead of the pack. However it will have to balance a significantly greater outlay with its role as a publicly funded broadcaster.

The newspaper reports SBS will face fierce competition from a number of networks which all broadcast soccer. Seven, having accumulated record viewership for Matildas’ games at the Women’s World Cup, is expected to make a bid. Nine, which shows the Uefa Champions League on streaming service Stan Sport, is also likely to make an approach to Fifa.

Network Ten is said to be preparing a push for the rights, having landed the domestic rights for the A-Leagues in 2021 as part of a five-year deal reportedly worth AUS$200 million. In the same year, Ten also bought the rights to all international friendlies featuring the Socceroos and Matildas, as well as their respective Asian Cup and World Cup qualifiers through 2024.

The battle for the tournament’s rights, as well as for the subsequent Women’s World Cup, should therefore be intense – especially as the sport’s profile continues to soar in Australia.

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