The world’s No. 1 sport has created stiff competition to earn exclusive television rights. Three former Fox executives were accused of being willing to do whatever it took to get a piece of those rights. Hernan Lopez, Carlos Martinez, and Alejandro Burzaco were all under the microscope in a New York City courtroom this week in connection with corruption crimes from more than a decade ago.
Burzaco was the prosecution’s star witness as he testified that between 2000-2015 he, Martinez, and Lopez all conspired to bribe officials in South America to get exclusive television rights to the annual Copa Libertadores soccer tournament, the biggest tournament in the Southern Hemisphere, and broadcasting rights for qualifiers to the World Cup. The bribes and payoffs were projected to be upwards of $150 million.
Prosecutors also alleged that Lopez and Martinez used bribes to secure confidential bidding information that helped Fox land the U.S. rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.
“The bribes fulfilled that purpose extremely well,” Burzaco testified.
“Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez cheated for power, they cheated for opportunity, and they cheated for status within the industry and their own organization,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Silverberg said.
Lopez’s attorney said they planned to appeal based on “legal and factual errors” in the case, according to Reuters.
Lopez and Martinez lawyers have insisted the two men are being framed and accused Burzaco as the mastermind behind the bribes. Lopez was convicted and Martinez was acquitted of his charges.
The Connection: Who Are Hernan Lopez, Carlos Martinez, and Alejandro Burzaco?
Lopez is the former executive of Fox International channels, and he went on to later operate a podcast. He is also a native of Argentina.
Martinez was head of Fox’s Latin America affiliate and a native of Mexico.
Burzaco was a business partner of the two men and head of an Argentinian marketing firm. He was arrested in 2015 on a bribery charged in a separate soccer corruption scandal. In 2017, he testified that all three money along with FIFA executives took millions of dollars in bribes to support Qatar bid to host the World Cup. He plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges.
According to The New York Times, prosecutors alleged that the payoffs also provided confidential information from high-ranking officials at FIFA that enabled Fox to beat out rival ESPN for U.S. broadcasting rights of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The 2022 World Cup raised Fox’s second quarter revenue by 4 percent compared to the same period i 2021. They earned $4.61 billion total in their second quarter that included $2.052 billion from advertisement and $686 million in television revenue that was a direct result from the World Cup and NFL, according to reports.
The World Cup Final in 2022 was the most watched soccer event in U.S. history. Worldwide some 1.5 billion viewers watched on Dec. 18 as Argentina beat France 4-2 in penalty kicks after the two sides ended the extra period in Qatar tied 3-3.
What About FIFA and FOX?
In 2019, Fox Corp. split from its subsidiaries of international channels in a restructuring deal. They were not charged and have denied any involvement in the scandal.
FIFA forced former President Sepp Better to step down in 2015, and he was replaced by Gianni Infantino.