FOX Soccer Exclusive
U.S. World Cup bid for 2018 gets boost
The 2010 World Cup is history today, leaving behind a checkered legacy.
This latest World Cup was not the international draw FIFA and South Africa had hoped it would be, and fans worldwide saw tracts of empty seats throughout the Cup.
But what was bad news for FIFA and SAWOC might turn out to be very good news for the United States’ hopes of landing either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. Because this past World Cup failed to meet financial expectations, the United States -- which no one doubts can sell out every World Cup game -- suddenly looks like an even more attractive option.
“Our chances of landing the Cup are pretty reasonable,” said U.S. Bid Committee Executive Director David Downs in an interview Monday morning from New York.
“South Africa put on a wonderful World Cup, but obviously, there were some people who, because of what proved to be incorrect concerns, didn’t make the effort to attend. One of our big strengths is the United States’ ability to sell 5 million tickets for the World Cup, and I don’t think anyone has serious concerns about our ability to sell out every game.”
The United States will have to wait at least eight years for the quadrennial tournament, because the 2014 Cup has already been awarded to Brazil.
A total of nine World Cup hosting bids have been submitted for the two upcoming Cups, with Belgium and the Netherlands; and Portugal and Spain submitting joint bids for either Cup alongside England, Russia and the USA; while Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea are only bidding for 2022.
FIFA is currently visiting the prospective bidders, and will announce its decision on December 2nd. The World Cup has recently rotated among the continents, meaning that if a European host is chosen for 2018, the following World Cup likely will go to Asia, the Middle East or North America.
England is widely considered the favorite to win 2018; the USA is seen as locked in a tight race with the Aussies and the Russians for 2022.
“We think we have a better shot at 2022 than 2018,” said Downs.
“Europe is presumed to have a leg up and I won’t dispute that. But what has changed for us since 1994 is that we have experienced tremendous growth. We don’t have to put World Cup games in major media markets to sell out -- world-class facilities are now being placed in markets like Baltimore and Nashville -- and I don’t think it’s an accident that NFL facilities are now being built with soccer in mind as well. Both the Dallas Cowboys Stadium and New Giants opened with big soccer events that sold out.
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“Our argument is that the sport has shown tremendous growth in this country, but still has enormous growth potential and upside. We are literally ripe for growth, and if we say today that the Cup is coming in 12 years, the change in our market would be spectacular.”
The 2010 World Cup was not the smash success South Africa hoped it would be for reasons that were largely beyond its control. Some fans stayed away because of fears of violence -- South Africa has an extraordinarily high crime rate -- while others were simply priced out due to a combination of excessive hotel pricing, high airfares, and the Great Recession.
Worse, some weren’t able to get into the stadiums once they arrived -- there were several embarrassing incidents involving traffic jams, and one that saw Durban airport strand fans before the Spain-Germany semifinal because private jets would not clear the runways.
The problems were so obvious that FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, in a rare moment of candor, told the press last week that it had been “a difficult situation” for Match Hospitality, the London-based company that held exclusive rights to sell high-end packages at the 2010 World Cup. They took a bath, and Valcke admitted the company would not see any profit at this Cup.
That, and the fact that FIFA heavily subsidized this Cup in the first place, pouring a reported $1 billion into the 2010 World Cup, means that FIFA surely will be looking to replenish its coffers.
There are potential problems with the 2014 hosts as well: As in South Africa, Brazil suffers from a transportation deficit, something Brazilian Football Federation (CBF) president Ricardo Teixeira acknowledged last week, telling reporters that, “The problem for 2014 is airports, the airports, and the airports.”
As a result, FIFA, which always has a so-called “Plan B” backup, will be keeping unusually close tabs on the United States and its bid. The USA and Australia were backups to step in for South Africa if that country had failed to meet its targets, and the Americans are widely viewed as a singular nation with the infrastructure and ability to stage a major event on short notice.
But one thing the USA still may have to overcome is the perception in some quarters that the USA is not “a soccer nation,” a false premise that the country’s rabid reaction to the 2010 World Cup should go a long way towards dispelling. The Cup was a smash hit in the States, pulling huge numbers on TV, selling millions of magazine covers, and becoming genuine water-cooler chat that roped in millions of casual sports fans.
“Everything that I have heard and read signals that this Cup was a tipping point in the States,” said Downs. “We’d love to see it continue, and we believe we are well positioned to see it continue. We recognize that some people outside the USA look at MLS and say that it’s not the NFL or the Premier League. We think that is very unfair -- it undersells MLS and the sport here.
“The fact is we estimate 90 million people -- almost 1/3rd of the country -- watched the Cup, and we may be underestimating. Our fan base has access to games from around the world, and we stage huge, successful matches of all kinds here. And MLS averages 16,000 fans a game, which puts it among the top 15 leagues in the world.”
The Americans also believe they have an ace in the hole. The Confederations Cup, the traditional “dry run” for the World Cup that is held in the host nation one year out, is a tough sell for many countries. Not so in the USA.
“If it’s in the USA, those seats will be filled,” said Downs. “The USA and Mexico would sell out; the European champions would sell out; the South American and African champions would sell out; the Asian representatives will sell. That’s a big asset for our bid.”
The bottom line is that an American World Cup would be a smash hit, with fervent support for every participating team.
“We’ve said all along that one of the strengths of the USA is the fact that [because of our population] we would see home support for 32 teams. We’d love to have 2 million visitors to come for the World Cup, and we already know we have the domestic following for every team that would make the Cup sell out stadiums many times over.”
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com.