Why the US is a Lock to Host the 2022 World Cup (or Maybe 2018)

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton (L) and FIFA President Sepp Blatter attend the 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match between the United States and Algeria at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria June 23, 2010.  REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP POLITICS)

There is some real drama about which European country will host the next World Cup.  Both England and Russia have submitted solid bids, and FIFA is going to have to think very deeply about which country will get to host this prestigious event.  However, FIFA is awarding both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups this December, and although several countries, including South Korea, Australia and Qatar are bidding for the other slot, the US is almost a guaranteed winner. 

There are several factors in the US’s favor, but as with most things about FIFA, they come down to money.

Nobody on Earth has the ability to host more visitors or sell more tickets than the US

In 1994, the US hosted the World Cup tournament and sold a record 3.6 million tickets in a country that, for many, barely registered that the event was actually going on.  Despite the fact that four World Cups have occurred since 1994, and that the tournament expanded from 24 countries to 32 (and from 52 to 64 matches) in 1998, that record still stands.  An average of 69,000 people attended each game, and some of the venues for those games were second tier facilities like Stanford Stadium and the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.  For a future World Cup, the US can place the games in a dozen different stadia that have all been built or upgraded within the decade and all seat more than 70,000 spectators.  For a World Cup tournament, there is little doubt that the US could sell between 4.5 and 5 million tickets, a record that will probably never be broken.

When the FIFA inspection committee comes to the US next month, they will make stops at the new Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey, FedEx Field outside of Washington DC., Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex., and Reliant Stadium in Houston.  In addition to the huge seating capacity, all of these new, modern stadia will have the luxury boxes and facilities FIFA needs to entertain all the big wigs and corporate sponsors associated with the greatest sporting event on earth. 

Just about all the stadia that would host a World Cup game in the USA are built for the NFL, and the NFL is world’s greatest organization for buttering up its cooperate sponsors.  The two versions of football share the same attitude about how best to generate gameday money – sell tickets to the small guys and rape the rich guys for every penny they are willing to toss away in order to be associated with sports.  The NFL stadia are like a FIFA dream come true.

The US has the infrastructure to host the tournament next month, let alone in 2022

All of the 18 cities in the US bid package have the airports, transportation facilities and hotel space already built and ready.  In fact, for many of the cities, having 100,000 visitors show up and check into hotels will barely register in the day-to-day life of the city.  With 1.5 million people going in and out of American airports every day, if 750,000 visitors come to the US for the World Cup, the logistical headaches will be more along the lines of a busy Thanksgiving travel season.

Despite all of its advantages, the US Bid Committee has unrolled a charm offensive

Did you notice who was sitting next to FIFA head Sepp Bladder at two of the US’s games in South Africa this summer?  That was President Bill Clinton.  Whatever your politics, the fact is that Clinton is one of the most popular Americans in the rest of the world, and nobody would dispute his ability to charm a snake out of its skin.  With Clinton now as acting as honorary chairman of the bid committee, the entire effort has had its star wattage kicked up more than a notch. 

That star power will be on display next month when the inspection committee comes to the US, is escorted by President Clinton, entertained by soccer fans like John Legend, Kobe Bryant and Brad Pitt, and sits down to lunch with President Obama during their time in Washington.  With all due respect to Qatar, that will be tough to beat.

More importantly, America is a growing soccer power in the FIFA universe

Do you know which country has more U-14, U-12, U-10, U-8 and U-6 registered soccer players than England, Italy, Germany or France?  The USA.  Do you know which country bought more tickets to the most recent World Cup than any other outside of the hosts?  The USA.  Do you know which country bought more soccer equipment than any on earth last year?  The USA.

Soccer may not yet be more popular as a spectator sport than baseball, football or basketball, but it is the most played sport among youth in America, and now represents a gigantic revenue source for FIFA.  If soccer ever generated half the passion in the US than it does in the major European powers, it would generate far more revenue than any other nation on earth.  The 1994 World Cup introduced soccer as a viewing activity to America, and a 2022 World Cup hosted in the US has the potential to make that interest explode.

China’s interest in hosting in the future ices it for the USA

For FIFA, China is virgin territory.  With 1.2 billion people, the world’s second largest GNP, and almost no soccer culture to speak of, FIFA is desperate to get China into the world soccer scene.  If China expresses even the slightest interest in hosting the 2026 or 2030 World Cup, the US bid is a lock.

Why?  Because all of the US’s competition (Qatar, Korea and Australia), are located in the Asian Football Confederation.  If any of those teams are awarded the World Cup, China will be shut out until the 2040s.  FIFA cannot allow that to happen.  They need the cult of football to spread to China, and after the last Olympics, they know China could be a wonderful host.  China has not submitted a bid for 2018 or 2022, so FIFA may feel the need to hold a slot open for them in the next round.  In the meantime, they cannot give that Asian slot to someone else.

Can the USA win the 2018 hosting job?

Perhaps.  The USA has repeatedly expressed to FIFA that they are willing to limit their bid to 2022 if that is what FIFA wants, and FIFA has encouraged the USA to stay open to the possibility of hosting the games four years sooner.  Why?  If Russia were to be awarded the games, they would need to build a lot of stadia, and if England were to be awarded the games, they would need to upgrade many of theirs.

FIFA may want to give either Russia or England another four years to improve their facilities.  If so, we may be just eight years away from welcoming the rest of the world to the World Cup.

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