The U.S.A. Could (And Should) Host Another World Cup

chile-copa_2706getty_875Last night the Copa America Centenario came to a close with Chile defeating Argentina in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw. This was almost an exact replica of Copa America 2015 when Chile defeated Argentina in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw.  The difference? The United States does it bigger, and does it better.

The predominately Argentine attendance last night in East Rutherford, New Jersey was reportedly over 82,000, a New Jersey soccer record. This comes on the heels of last week’s impressive crowd at the USA vs. Argentina semifinal in Houston, Texas that was reportedly over 70,000, a Houston soccer record.  For a country that has played host in the past to Pele, Ronaldinho, and David Beckham, there are many reasons for tournament organizers to be pleased right now.

The amount of records broken by this edition of Copa America cannot be ignored.  After last night’s final, the accumulated attendance of the 32 games played was just over 1.5 million, shattering a record held for over 25 years by over 350,000. In addition, the average attendance was nearly 46,000 fans per game, topping 5 of the last 9 World Cups (excluding the USA hosted World Cup in 1994).  Average attendance even topped the past 6 European championships despite an average ticket price of just over $100.  Using just attendance alone as a measuring stick, the U.S. has raised the bar as a host.

In terms of TV ratings, even more records were broken.  Not including the final, the first 30 matches of the Copa America Centenario drew over 100 million viewers in the U.S. from the combined broadcasts of Univision and Fox networks.  Univision reported that ratings for the tournament have been higher than average ratings for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  The USA vs. Argentina semifinal even drew 3.29 million viewers on Fox Sports 1, a network soccer record.  In terms of reach, the tournament has been broadcast in 160 countries, and 1.5 billion viewers worldwide. While the days until MLS reaches 1.5 billion viewers are still a long way off, competitive international soccer in the US has consistently proven to be record draw since the ’90s.

In short, the Copa America Centenario achieved every feat it intended and then some.  As Sunil Gulati accurately concluded, the United States Soccer Federation successfully proved that this country has the infrastructure, management system, and consumer base to thrive as an international soccer tournament host.  In many ways, the United States has everything that Brazil is missing for the Rio Olympics in less than two months.  Even with all the bribery and scandals that surround FIFA, it would be incredibly hard to avoid the potential money-making machine that the United States just displayed for a memorable, drama-filled, and lucrative three weeks.

REFERENCES

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/copa-america-has-been-successful-with-attendance-tv-ratings/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/sergeiklebnikov/2016/06/26/successful-copa-america-2016-smashes-records/#44766b89734b

http://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/la-sp-copa-us-argentina-tv-ratings-20160622-snap-story.html

http://www.news18.com/footballnext/news/lionel-messi-misses-penalty-as-chile-win-copa-america-2016-title-1262520.html

Advertisements

Empty Seats at Copa America

IMG_20160604_171457

This month, soccer is available to the average American soccer fan virtually all parts of the day with three European Cup games on in the morning and afternoon capped off by two Copa America games at night. It’s beautiful isn’t it? It makes you appreciate the ‘worldly’ aspect of the game. But does it provide too much convenience to the average fan? So much so that he or she would not get up off the couch and see a game in person?

As the first round of Copa America comes to a close tonight, and as the first round of Euro 2016 begins, a bit of an alarming trend has become apparent in the stands on this side of the pond. A significant number of seats are empty.

The story lines of the first round were not the problem. We witnessed a United States team with little expectations finish at the top of Group A. Colombia was handed a stunning 3-2 loss to Costa Rica setting up a potential matchup with a Brazil team that was even more stunned by a controversial goal at the hands of upstart Peru to be sent home after one measly round. We saw the spirited frustration of Luis Suarez as he could only watch from the sidelines as his countrymen from Uruguay would exit this tournament early as well. And of course, we saw Lionel Messi dazzle in the limelight with a hat trick despite entering the game as a second half substitute. In most of these cases, you could not ask for a better sequence of events.

The real problem could be a combination of factors. One could be the low expectations for this US team. In the past quarter century, the US has given the nation pride with spirited performances in the World Cups in South Africa and Brazil, possibly reaching a plateau with the heartfelt performance of Tim Howard against Belgium in the World Cup knockout round in 2014. But since 2014 most of the news surrounding the national team has been negative. They finished in fourth place on their home turf in the 2015 Gold Cup, a tournament they usually dominate. Small Caribbean countries like Jamaica and Haiti were no longer easy matchups; the island nations were highly competitive, sometimes even better. The US had gradually ascended into a North American juggernaut from 1990 to 2014. Suddenly, all progress appeared to be lost. But here we are in 2016, and as usual, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has somehow lit a fire under this team again at the most unexpected moment.

Another factor could be the lack of star power. Before Brazil flamed out of the tournament in spectacular fashion, they were playing without the face of the squad, Neymar. Talented striker, and habitual opposition biter, Luis Suarez was injured or listed as injured in all three matches for Uruguay. Even Argentine sensation Lionel Messi was used as a substitute rather than a starter due to an injury he sustained before the tournament. You could call it bad timing, but without the stars to advertise, smaller nations like Panama, Haiti, and Venezuela have never been crowd pleasers. Unfortunately, Brazil and Uruguay’s eliminations in the group stages could continue to have an adverse attendance in the more meaningful knockout round matches.

A third factor could be these over-sized stadiums hosting games. The last Copa America in Chile averaged around 25,000 fans per game, and the previous Copa America in Argentina averaged just under 35,000 fans per game. After 20 games in this year’s tournament, the US average is significantly higher at just above 40,000, with some clear outliers. Despite statistically better turnouts, hosting games in 70,000 to 80,000 seat stadiums makes for a poor aesthetic.

And finally, the biggest factor could be TV coverage. Univision is reportedy averaging 2.8 million viewers per game while Fox Sports 1 is averaging just over 800,000 viewers per game. According to Nielsen Media Research, over 2 million viewers watched the US defeat Paraguay 1-0 to advance to the next round, the most watched men’s soccer match in Fox Sports One history. Yet on TV, you could see whole swathes of sections empty in the upper tiers of Lincoln Financial Field.

In all United States sporting events, going to the game has been marketed as an experience. An experience unlike sitting at home and watching on your TV. Instead of just seeing two century long rivals face off in a battle for glory, you could feel it. Live it. But at what cost?

The price of a TV subscription is relatively low compared to the price of a premium Copa America ticket. Currently on Stubhub, the cheapest ticket to the Copa America Centenario Final in East Rutherford, NJ two weeks from now is just over $300. For almost half that price, you could enjoy a month’s subscription to the cable provider of your choice with access to every game of the tournament on your TV, on your tablet, on your computer, and on your mobile phone at all times of day, alone or with friends and family in the comfortable confines of your home. With the right sound system, and with the right TV, the experience at home could be extravagant on its own. And with all the freedom available to you of watching the game anytime, anywhere, why on Earth would you trek through traffic and parking attendants to see Jamaica play Uruguay?

The organizers of this tournament have learned some unfortunate new realities about soccer in America. Just like with regular television, fans have choice now. The capacity crowds of the 1994 World Cup didn’t have a smartphone and live stream of the event in prime-time. The skeptical “wow me” fans of 2016 do. Unless Mexico plays the US in the final, the remaining tickets at MetLife Stadium have a poor chance of being sold at face value. Welcome to the new age of international soccer in America.

REFERENCES
http://www.starsandstripesfc.com/2016/6/13/11920118/usa-paraguay-copa-america-match-breaks-tv-viewing-record

Univision leading the way in Copa America TV ratings with FOX Sports trailing behind

http://www.newsy.com/videos/don-t-get-too-worried-about-attendance-at-the-copa-america/
http://www.concordmonitor.com/Copa-America-soccer-attendance-2828093

 

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.


REFERENCES

http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/news/y=2015/m=6/news=fifa-women-s-world-cup-openers-attract-bigger-tv-audiences-than-2011-2645835.html

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

http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/2015/06/13/womens-world-cup-uswnt-tie-vs-sweden-draws-45-million-viewers-sets-tv-record

http://www.npr.org/2015/05/25/409495184/for-womens-world-cup-u-s-soccer-fans-kick-it-up-a-notch

The Women’s World Cup: Where is the Buzz?

img_6177_original-croppedThe 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in Canada in less than 2 weeks.  Are you excited? If the answer is no, you probably fall in the majority of sports fans. But the marketing push leaves a lot to be desired. Women’s professional soccer has historically been a tough sell since the memorable U.S. Women’s National Team World Cup victory in 1999, and 2015 is no exception.

During last year’s FIFA Men’s World Cup, Nike and Adidas aggressively fought each other over ad space and staged media events to draw attention to new soccer jerseys and products.  It is very unlikely to expect this level of competition during this year’s event due to the lack of interest building around the competition.  Possibly the most publicity surrounding the tournament came from the controversial choice of colors to be worn by the U.S. Women’s National Team.  For the first time, the team will not be wearing a uniform that resembles the American flag.  Instead, the team will don white uniforms with hints of black, as well as neon green socks and cleats.  The topic was trending nationally for hours.

Fox Sports, the broadcast rights owner of this event has attempted to hype the games through a 100 day, $10 million dollar promotional push.  You can see the video that starts this push below.  The goal of the campaign is to convince viewers that the U.S. Men’s National Team has “passed the torch” to the U.S. Women’s National Team after their disappointing World Cup defeat to Belgium last year because “The U.S. has a score to settle.”

While a 6 venue tournament in Canada will almost definitely have a different feel on television to the surreal scenes we saw in Brazil during the Men’s World Cup, FOX Sports still sees the potential for great success.  5 out of the 16 matches to be aired on FOX will be aired during primetime, including the two group stage matches of the U.S. team.  29 games will be shown on FOX Sports 1.  Time will tell if viewers care about the tournament, and if the tournament can impact the success of the U.S. professional women’s league as expected.

According to SB Nation, the average attendance in 2014 for the National Women’s Soccer League (America’s top-tier women’s league) was 4,139.  If you subtract the exception to the rule, the Portland Thorns who average 13,362 fans per game, attendance decreases drastically to 2,986.  In fairness, the Seattle Sounders of MLS also help boost average attendance figures by acting as a clear outlier to the rest of the league.

Perhaps even worse news is that professional women’s soccer leagues in the United States have a history of folding after 3 years, first with the WUSA in 2003, followed by the WPS in 2011.  This year marks the fateful third year of operations for the NWSL.  As a result, success in this World Cup by the women’s team could be crucial for the existence of the league.  Star power from household names like Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach combined with a U.S. Women’s World Cup victory will need to equate to consistent attendance figures in NWSL games,  or the league might face the same repetitively grim fate of its predecessors.

REFERENCES

http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/fox-sports-gets-world-cup-fans-revved-round-2-163077

http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2015/04/womens_world_cup_should_have_i.html

http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2015/04/22/us-soccer-home-jersey-white-uniform-usmnt-uswnt-kit

http://www.ussoccer.com/stories/2015/05/20/09/54/150520-wnt-fox-wwc-tv-sched-rel

http://www.dynamotheory.com/2015/4/13/8392073/nwsl-looks-to-break-attendance-trend-set-by-failed-leagues-wusa-wps

Nike is releasing its US women’s soccer jerseys in men’s sizes for the first time ever