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Fox's David Nathanson gives inside scoop on new CONCACAF Gold Cup deal

In the midst of the uproar over the U.S. men's national team's disastrous start to the final round of World Cup qualifying, Fox Sports quietly announced that it signed a new rights deal with CONCACAF to broadcast the 2017 and 2019 Gold Cups.

In the midst of the uproar over the U.S. men's national team's disastrous start to the final round of World Cup qualifying, Fox Sports quietly announced that it signed a new rights deal with CONCACAF to broadcast the 2017 and 2019 Gold Cups.

This was news on a few levels. The obvious one was the simple fact that Fox will remain the tournament's English-language home on U.S. TV, as it has been in various forms since 1998.

The less obvious one - but just as important - was that the Gold Cup will remain a biennial event for the time being.

If you are dreaming of a quick transition to an era when the Gold Cup is held every four years, it's not happening yet.

I got some behind-the-scenes details on Fox's deal with CONCACAF in a conversation this week with Fox Sports head of business operations David Nathanson, who was one of the people at the negotiating table.

It's clear that the one-game playoff between the winners of the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cups to determine CONCACAF's representative in the 2017 Confederations Cup was a big success. CONCACAF wanted to set up the potential for that to happen again, and Fox didn't object.

And, well, why would they? Complain about the morality of the event as much as you want, it was a business perspective, it was a smash hit.

The U.S.-Mexico showdown at the Rose Bowl drew over 93,000 fans to the famed venue and a U.S. TV audience of 6.7 million viewers.

That's a bigger audience than the 5.2 million who watched last Friday's U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier in Columbus, and you could argue the qualifier is a bigger game.

The audiences were bigger not just combined, but individually on Fox Sports 1 (1.6 million to 1.3 million) and Univision (5.1 million to 4.6 million)

That might not happen again this time around. The same team might win both Gold Cups in the cycle, and the U.S. or Mexico might not win one of them.

But if everything comes together just so, you know everyone will be breaking out the cash registers again.

"We certainly understood that in order to tie the narrative to the [2021] Confederations Cup, we had to have both so that we could tell the whole story," Nathanson told me. "The fact that it ties into our FIFA rights makes a lot of sense for us."

Nathanson cares about much more than the one-game playoff, though. He cares about the Gold Cup as a whole.

"The Gold Cup, whether for Fox Soccer Channel or for Fox Sports 1, has historically been one of the highest-rated tournaments on our air," he said. "For us, it's the crown jewel of national team competitions for our confederation. In our area, there is no tournament that's bigger or more relevant for national team competition."

Nathanson chose his words carefully there, drawing a specific contrast with the high-profile games in CONCACAF's "Hexagonal" final round of World Cup qualifying.

"Obviously, the Hex is incredibly important, and has a very significant outcome as it relates to World Cup participation, but it's not a tournament per se - it's a qualification [process]," he said. "As it relates to a tournament where you lift a cup at the end of a thing, next to the [Copa América] Centenario - which was really a once-in-a-lifetime, or certainly a once-in-a-century opportunity - this represents the most consistent, crown jewel tournament for our region. The fact that it's in our backyard allows us to really elevate and circulate the sport to a broader audience than we traditionally could for a lot of these international tournaments."

Note the phrase "in our backyard." In the wake of the ouster of CONCACAF's old, corrupt leadership, the crowd that follows the organization's politics closely wondered aloud whether it might be time to take a Gold Cup out of the United States.

In a perfect world, it would be great to have the tournament be staged across the Caribbean, spreading games among suitable venues in countries like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica.

From a practical perspective, though, only three CONCACAF nations can host the entire tournament within their borders: the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Traditionally, the event has been held entirely in the United States, but there have been a few exceptions. Mexico City hosted games in 2003 and 1993 (including both editions' finals), and Toronto hosted games in 2015.

Mexico could host games in a heartbeat, especially since new stadiums have been built in recent years in Guadalajara, Monterrey and elsewhere. There is particular intrigue about Canada, though - in part because CONCACAF's new president is former Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani.

I asked Nathanson for his take on the possibility of the Gold Cup getting some new hosts.

"It wouldn't surprise me if the tournament was held across multiple territories between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico," he said. "But at this point, I haven't been given any indication that it would be hosted anywhere other than the United States. If it does, we wouldn't necessarily be against that, so long as a portion of the matches are in the U.S."

Nathanson further noted that "if history is any guide," the U.S. is "the most likely host" and "certainly the most turnkey host."

Some in Mexico might disagree with the latter assertion. But there's no guarantee that a tournament in Mexico would draw big crowds of expatriates from Central American nations. That happens regularly in the U.S. when teams like Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica play in big cities.

Whatever you may think of the Gold Cup - and you don't have to look too far to find a wide range of opinions on it - there's no question that the Copa América Centenario was a big deal. The tournament delivered the top four soccer viewership figures in Fox Sports 1's history, and it's unlikely that the high water mark (3.2 million for the U.S.-Argentina semifinal) will be topped before the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The event was so successful that it was (and still is, frankly) impossible to avoid imagining whether a combined tournament of the Americas could become a regular thing. Indeed, one of the biggest arguments for making the Gold Cup a quadrennial affair is that it would help clear the way for more combined tournaments.

Alas, you shouldn't get your hopes too high right now.

"At this point, that has not been contemplated," Nathanson told me.

But there's no denying that the idea lingers out there. If it is to happen again, the potential for big television money certainly helps the cause.

It's no secret that Univision Sports president Juan Carlos Rodriguez was a key player in the negotiations that rescued the Copa América Centenario after the U.S. government exposed corrupt rights deals for the tournament. Nathanson believes Fox should be in the room too the next time around.

"Certainly, I would hope we are a part of the conversation, given the fact that we showcase our U.S. men's national team matches as much as anybody in the country in English, and we also own the rights to the Mexican national team's matches in the U.S. in English," Nathanson said. "From that perspective, along with the fact that we're the FIFA rights-holders, I would expect that we would be in the room should those conversations happen."

Nathanson was in the room when Fox extended its Gold Cup rights. I asked him to provide a bit of insight on how the negotiations worked, and he obliged.

"I did the deal with an agency that they [CONCACAF] hired to represent them," Nathanson said. That agency was Evolution Media Partners, which has a deep partnership with the well-known Creative Artists Agency. CONCACAF retained Evolution in as part of its overhaul of its business practices.

"We also had direct conversations during that process with CONCACAF and Soccer United Marketing," Nathanson said. "All were participants, but it was driven from a business and negotiating standpoint by [CONCACAF's] agency of record for the Gold Cup, which was Evolution Media Partners."

You know enough by now about CONCACAF's efforts to fix itself. And you know that Evolution is definitely not Traffic Sports (no pun intended). CONCACAF cut all ties with Traffic after the famed sports marketing firm was nailed by the feds, and signed deals with new partners to help with marketing and other such matters.

Although the Gold Cup rights are settled, other English-language CONCACAF rights in the U.S. are not. That includes CONCACAF national team events such as the Women's World Cup qualifying tournament and the confederation's many youth national team tournaments.

Fox has held those rights for a while now. Nathanson said Fox is talking with CONCACAF about extending its partnership, but nothing is official yet.

"At this point, all we're announcing is the CONCACAF Gold Cup," he said. "Certainly, there are a lot of tournaments that CONCACAF controls that are relevant to our audience, and that tie specifically to our FIFA rights. Those are tournaments that we would be interested in and have engaged with CONCACAF on, but at this point we're not ready to announce anything."

The future of CONCACAF Champions League rights is also very much up in the air. Right now, the only television option is Univision's Spanish-language broadcasts, but the network doesn't televise every game. Univision notably did not televise some MLS teams' group stage games in the current campaign, which is now on a break until the knockout stages begin in late February.

Fans wishing to watch those games had to turn to CONCACAF's Facebook page and Univision's website. Games were available free of charge and without any pay-TV authentication requirement, which offered the potential for wide distribution. But that still isn't the same as a television deal.

There admittedly isn't too much value in group stage games that MLS teams play against unfamiliar opponents in front of small crowds. But there is value in showdowns between MLS teams and Mexican teams in the knockout stages. And there is value in general in wanting to grow the stature of the continent's top club competition, since the winner goes to the FIFA Club World Cup. There's also particular value for Fox since it is one of MLS' domestic national TV partners.

Right now, though, Fox appears to be staying off the board. When I asked Nathanson if the network might do a deal for this season's knockout rounds, he answer was pretty direct.

The Twitter handle above is for my general news reporting. My soccer handle is @thegoalkeeper. Contact me there for any questions about this post.