Hidden From View: The U.S. Open Cup

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This past Wednesday night in Hempstead, NY on the campus of Hofstra University, almost 11,500 fans packed Shuart Stadium and witnessed the New York Cosmos of (the minor league) NASL upset New York City FC of (the major league) MLS after extra time in a penalty kick shootout.  NYCFC found itself playing on a turf surface designed for college football and a visiting locker room without a tunnel to the pitch, leaving for an awkward walk through the concourse to ogling fans.  Why was a major league soccer team playing in these less than stellar conditions, as have many teams before it?

The U.S. Open Cup is the second oldest continuous tournament in the world, crowning its first champion in 1914.  During that inaugural competition, the Brooklyn Field Club claimed the trophy after defeating Brooklyn Celtic in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  The tournament has taken place every year since, including the years during World War II, and it includes every single professional soccer team in the country, as well as some amateur clubs.

In America, we love a Cinderella story.  But unfortunately, since Major League Soccer was created, only one minor league soccer team has claimed the trophy and that was the Rochester Raging Rhinos of the now USL (United Soccer League) back in 1999.  Since then, an MLS club has won the trophy every season, including last year’s champion, the Seattle Sounders.  Even more unfortunately, not every MLS team takes the tournament seriously with its final prize winnings of only $250,000 and an automatic place in the CONCACAF Champions League, North America’s weaker counterpart to Europe’s UEFA.

Similar tournaments to the Open Cup with a surprisingly less lengthy history are played each year in European powerhouses such as England, Italy, and France with formidable marketing, excellent TV ratings and sell-out crowds. In contrast, the U.S. Open Cup doesn’t even have an official website.  The Cup.us, arguably the most extensive website covering the U.S. Open Cup, was created in 2003 by an internet radio show called “Soccer Fanatics Radio Show” hosted by Josh Hakala.  Since then, the U.S. Soccer Federation has incorporated an Open Cup tab to its website, but with few features and typically just game highlights and a bracket of results.  The quickest way for fans to here about the draw for who their teams would play in each round of matches was through a U.S. Open Cup Twitter account.

In today’s society where sports fans are accustomed to real-time scores, extensive TV coverage, and a marketing blitz, it is amazing to see how the U.S. Open Cup is almost a secret kept in hardcore fan circles.  In order to pack the stadium at Hofstra University, the New York Cosmos marketing team had to work in-house to get the message across digital media and radio stations like WFAN in New York that the game was even taking place. The “derby” concept of two New York teams playing each other for the first time in history had to be more emphasized than the intrigue surrounding the century old tournament.

The U.S. Open Cup seems to be a missed opportunity for growing soccer’s success in America.  In a country that views baseball as its pastime, and football as its TV ratings king, the fact that soccer owns the oldest sports competition still played in the U.S. just might blow people’s minds if advertised effectively. Until then, let’s hope for a Cinderella story that can bring the tournament out of the shadows and into the spotlight.





Breaking Records

Getty Images
Getty Images

According to FOX Sports, the Friday Women’s World Cup clash between the U.S. Women’s National Team and Sweden drew an average of 4.5 million viewers, eclipsing the record for any soccer game every broadcasted by the network.  This is huge news not just for the women’s game, but also soccer as a whole as it continues to see an image boost in the United States.

The larger TV audience for this game was possibly helped by the pre-match drama created when former U.S coach, now Sweden coach Pia Sundhage made some insulting remarks about a few of her old players to the media.  Since the game ended in a 0-0 draw, both parties escaped with their reputations intact, at least temporarily, and the audience did not see any fireworks that might have been expected from these comments.  The crowds in Canada have also looked impressive, particularly from the presence of the American Outlaws  fan supporter organization in Winnipeg, where both U.S. games have been played. According to NPR before the World Cup, 700 members of the club were expected to make the trip north, but on TV, the overall turnout looks even better than expected with near sell-out crowds for both matches.

According to FOX and the Washington Post Soccer Insider, in addition to the record breaking average audience, the peak audience was 6.4 million viewers, and the top 5 markets for viewers were in Richmond, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Columbus, and St. Louis. The first match of the tournament for the U.S. drew 3.3 million viewers on Fox Sports 1, more than 3 times higher than the opening game for the team in 2011.  The next game for the U.S. is on a Tuesday night against Nigeria with less drama, so it will be intriguing to see if the number of viewers continue to increase.

According to FIFA, American TV audiences aren’t the only ones breaking  records.  In Canada, a record 1.8 million viewers tuned in to see their hosting team play the opening match, and in China 2.3 million viewers watched the same game, up from 1.3 million viewers in the highest watch game at the last World Cup in 2011.  As the Women’s World Cup continues, it will be very interesting to see just how many more records are broken.  FOX Sports should be very happy with the results and excited for the future as they own the English-language broadcast rights to all Men’s and Women’s FIFA World Cups in the U.S. through 2026.

The American crowd at the first group game in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The American crowd at the first group game in Winnipeg, Manitoba.



USA vs. Sweden: Score and Twitter Reaction from 2015 Women's Soccer World Cup



A Soccer World in Chaos

Unless blatteryou’ve been living under a rock this week, you know that Sepp Blatter has resigned as the President of FIFA amidst the arrests of various FIFA officials for allegedly accepting bribes and the corruption of the organization moving to the forefront of world news. This is despite winning re-election on Friday shortly after the negative news went public.  No doubt, this is an image nightmare for even the most optimistic PR specialist.  However, there are certain organizations breathing a sigh of relief thanks to this recent news.

According to the Wall Street Journal, several of FIFA’s largest corporate sponsors, Coca Cola Co., Visa Inc., and Adidas AG have all made statements welcoming the end of Blatter’s 17 year reign as chief of world soccer’s governing body.  This is after all three organizations took tremendous heat for not dropping their deals with FIFA after the corruption scandal became official. In other sports and even other moments in soccer, sponsorships fade away as soon as an athlete or organization turn bad for business. Intriguingly, FIFA has been able to contradict this model.

Prior to the FIFA presidential election, U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati boldly supported Sepp Blatter’s top competition, Prince Ali, even at the cost of losing a future World Cup bid.  Gulati was quoted by the New York Times as saying “Would I like to see the United States host a World Cup in the future? The answer is, of course, yes.  But for me, and for U.S. Soccer, better governance and more integrity at Concacaf and FIFA are far more important than hosting any international soccer tournament.”  The World Cup could prove to be a huge economic boom and boost for soccer’s popularity in this country if the event were once again hosted here for the first time since 1994.  Giving up this chance for the sake of ethics is an admirable, but unfortunately idealistic idea.

According to Forbes, in the four years leading up to the 2014 World Cup, FIFA was able to amass $5.72 billion in sponsorship deals and media rights.  In 2014, official jersey sponsors of FIFA gave $190 million primarily due to the popularity and strength of the World Cup.  In many ways, FIFA has grown too big to fail.  Even with all the negative publicity, business is still good for sponsors.  Despite the most ethical efforts by reformers like the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Swiss government, money talks.  Money is the cause of FIFA’s publicity woes, but money could continue to fuel this machine of controversy even after Blatter is gone.  When the money stops rolling in, the corrupt officials just might start to listen.





Sunil Gulati Says U.S. Will Vote Against Sepp Blatter, Even If It Costs A Chance to Host Future World Cup