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

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Viewing the Copa Half-Full for U.S. Soccer

usa vs argLast night, we witnessed Lionel Messi and Argentina embarrass the U.S. Men’s National Team, 4-0 on its home turf in Houston, Texas in the semifinals of the Copa America Centenario. Without debate, it was the biggest game for the USMNT since its 2-1 extra time defeat to Belgium in the 2014 World Cup. Unfortunately, there appeared to be a lot less positive takeaways this time around. But if we dig really hard, here is what we can find:

First off, nearly 71,000 fans filled NRG Stadium in Houston on a Tuesday night to watch soccer.  According to MLSSoccer.com, that was a Houston soccer record.  On top of that, they came to cheer on a U.S team of predominately MLS players face off against the top ranked international team in the world.  Everybody likes an underdog story and without having to market the game too vigorously, that is exactly how the bracket played this one out.  Sure, a home team win would have been nice, but we can’t have everything we want.

Next, the future pool of U.S. players includes some potentially marketable stories.  When the game was already lost, we saw Christian Pulisic from Hershey, Pennsylvania substituted in to shake up the tempo.   Even though the U.S. finished without a shot on goal, the only opportunities that even made it close to the Argentina penalty box all came from the American wunderkind.  He may not even come close to Messi’s talents, but Messi is a once in a generation player.  Pulisic is the next best thing, already rising as a star in German soccer with Borrusia Dortmund, considered levels above American soccer.  There were reports that he had just went to his prom last week.  We also saw Darlington Nagbe, the Portland Timbers star from Liberia who became a U.S. citizen in 2015 to earn his shot at international glory, enter the game late in the second half to generate offense.  One of the reasons why the Olympics earn such excellent TV ratings  are the feel-good story lines of young American athletes triumphing over obstacles to reach some specialized sporting events that most average people could not care less about.

In many ways, the U.S. Men’s National Team has its own stories to draw interest. On top of Pulisic and Nagbe, there’s Clint Dempsey, the old but reliable scoring and rapping talent from Texas.  Even more intriguing, backup goalkeeper Tim Howard’s legendary performance against Belgium two years ago has kept him on the map. His name was brought up almost as much as head coach Klinsmann on Twitter after the score was 3-0 on Tuesday.

Third, while this has been considered an official Copa America, it’s not a typical Copa America.  The tournament is usually held every two years, but in order to create this anniversary edition (and to lure the event outside of South America) the Centenario was held this year, 2016, a quick year after the last official Copa America in 2015.  If you throw in the corruption scandal that had to be sorted out beforehand, it almost makes the whole tournament seem entirely meaningless (but probably not).

In the aftermath of the game, U.S Soccer President Sunil Gulati, comparing the U.S. to national soccer teams like Argentina said, “we have a long way to go.”  But that isn’t necessarily true.  If the US wins the third place game on Saturday night in Phoenix, it will be the best finish by the U.S. in Copa America history.  Out of the eight invitee nations outside of South America that have ever competed in the tournament, none have ever finished higher than second place.  Maybe our expectations are too high.  Maybe in a country used to dominating all sports, not being the best at one is just unacceptable.  If we wait until we’re the best international team in the world before soccer takes off in the U.S, then we truly have a long way to go.  But from a global perspective, the USMNT has plenty of reasons to hold their chins up high.

And finally, at least it wasn’t 7-0 like Mexico.

Empty Seats at Copa America

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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

 

When will it end for the USMNT?

jur The word of the season is despair.  After a stunning loss to Jamaica at home and early exit this summer in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the United States Men’s Soccer Team woes continued into the fall with another shocking defeat in the newly billed “CONCACAF Cup” against rival Mexico in extra time.  Adding insult to injury, the team had another embarrassing home loss in a friendly to Costa Rica a few days later.  Naturally, passionate American fans are calling for Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s head.  What happened to the magic wonder team that defeated the Netherlands and Germany? 2015 started off with so much promise, but in retrospect it looks like a failure.

Where does the US go from here? Are things so bad that they need to start fearing how a World Cup run is going to end before it starts? Is Klinsmann’s time up? Some questions surrounding the team are easily answered, others not so much.  Having signed Klinsmann to a massive contract after the 2014 World Cup success, short of failing to qualify for 2018 Russia, Klinsmann looks like he is here to stay, good or bad.  From a publicity standpoint this could be beneficial given his media celebrity, but negative given the poor press the team will keep generating if it continues to lose under his regime.

In recent news, former Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera entertained the idea of a move to the USMNT if the call was given to him.  While this is all speculation, it does highlight the uncomfortable fact that the country’s confidence in Klinsmann is increasingly dwindling.  The even more recent U.S. Women’s National Team visit to the White House serves as a reminder of just how far behind the men’s team stands in terms of world power.

When the U.S ended a 40 year drought to qualify for the World Cup in 1990 it was the start of a promising era.  Since that year, the team has qualified for all six subsequent World Cups, and even hosted one in 1994.  The coaching carousel has changed many times in that period with no coach appearing in more than two consecutive World Cups.  Klinsmann would like to be the next coach behind Bruce Arena to accomplish that feat.  But first, he needs his team to qualify for one.  The U.S. missing the 2018 World Cup stands to severely damage all the progress made in American soccer’s popularity and reputation in the past 15 years.  There is faith in this team that reached a high point with Tim Howard’s performance against Belgium last year.  But that faith is hanging by a very small thread.  If Klinsmann’s team does not qualify in 2018, he stands a lot more to lose than just his job.

Copa America Centenario: When Good Ideas Go Bad

Copa_America_Centenario_USA_Logo_FC_Dark_bg_cmykIt was supposed to be an anniversary celebration that would be the highlight American soccer event of 2016. It was going to be a moment to honor 100 years of the storied Copa America competition with a special, unified tournament between CONMEBOL, the South American soccer federation, and CONCACAF, the North American soccer federation. Together, with star-studded lineups like Brazil and Argentina playing against northern powerhouses, USA and Mexico, it would truly be a cup of the Americas. The buzz might just have what it takes to rival the UEFA European Championship. But now, it might not happen. Or worse, it won’t happen with the USA involved.

How did we get here? Why would any soccer official in their right mind cancel or move what could be the biggest men’s soccer event in the United States since the 1994 World Cup? Corruption is almost always the answer when FIFA is in the picture. At the beginning of the summer, when U.S. and Swiss authorities acted on information that FIFA was involved in a bribery scandal, they uncovered a plethora of damaging information surrounding the 2016 Copa America tournament in particular, with the corrupt presidents of both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL playing a key role in its organization and development. As a result, holding the event is not just a question of marketing potential, but now a question of ethics for an organization attempting to rectify its deceitful public image.

Here is the lowdown on what this means for the U.S. The Euro tournament consistently gets great viewership not just in the stands but on TV around the globe. The Copa America, while not as big as the Euro, still generates better TV viewership than the paltry performance soccer fans expect to find at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The U.S. Men’s National Team performance at this year’s edition certainly didn’t help those figures.  A tournament combining the colossal giants from Copa America with the World Cup stalwarts, U.S. and Mexico, would almost definitely mean great TV ratings in the United States. Even more so, a tournament combining these teams that takes place inside of the United States would pretty much guarantee those great TV ratings, huge attendance figures, not to mention another boost for soccer in America that has been sought and coveted since 1994.

If the tournament is not held, all these potential sales dollars will be lost, which casts a negative shadow on both CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. But if the tournament is moved to another country, the only real shadow will be cast on the U.S, the nation that sacrificed a marketing bonanza for the purpose of righting the corrupt ship that is FIFA. Time will tell just how noble this sacrifice truly was.  If no good deed goes unpunished, then a good deed involving FIFA could metaphorically be the equivalent of imprisonment.

REFERENCES

http://prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com/2015/08/27/2016-copa-america-centenario-will-be-played-but-concacaf-might-not-be-involved/

http://www.espnfc.com/copa-america/story/2583612/copa-america-2016-may-not-be-in-us-says-conmebol-president

FOX Sports on verge of acquiring Copa America Centenario TV rights

What Happens Next For The USMNT?

DeAndre Yedlin, Clint DempseyAlmost a week after all the talk of firing Jurgen Klinsmann dies down, questions still remain about what happens next after the stunning USMNT loss to Jamaica, followed by a penalty kick loss in the 3rd Place Game to Panama. After a less than stellar tournament and many team vulnerabilities revealed, this could be a huge blow to the national team not just on the field but off. Here’s why.

Continue reading “What Happens Next For The USMNT?”

America’s Other Team Takes Center Stage

dempsWhen one international tournament comes to a close, another one opens.  Just two days after the U.S Women’s National Team emerged victorious in the Women’s World Cup, bringing glory and a publicity blitz to the nation, the U.S. Men’s National Team started its first competitive campaign since their 2014 World Cup exit with a 2-1 victory over Honduras in front of a sellout crowd in Dallas’s Toyota Stadium.  The game was far from pretty, and the performance by the US Men was far from spectacular, but the result was favorable considering the circumstances. The start of the Gold Cup beckons the question, when will we see a U.S. Men’s National team as dominant as our Women’s Team?

Continue reading “America’s Other Team Takes Center Stage”