Usually when major soccer tournaments come to new regions, one of the barometers of success is in the form of ticket sales. One of the pillars of a future US World Cup would be that major ticket sales would fill up gigantic stadiums across the country. This Copa America Centenario tournament, with 16 teams including several elite national teams and effectively two host nations, should be an indicator of the appetite for a future World Cup. Unfortunately, despite ticket sales expected to beat Copa America records, the early signs aren’t necessarily promising.
As US Men’s National Team fans have seen recently with the precipitous drop in attendance for the national team, ticket sales to major soccer games in this country sans Mexico games is not necessarily a given anymore. Part of the US’ new struggle may have to do with general apathy towards the team, though a large part has to do with exorbitantly high ticket prices that drive out most of the casual fans as well as hardcore fans that can’t afford the cheapest prices in the stadium starting at $50. With this Copa America, not only do the ticket prices come into play, but travel, weeknight games and generally unappealing teams alongside the ones that will draw coming as well, ticket sales for this tournament might not be what anyone would initially expect.
The Copa America Centenario won’t have issues generating enormous ticket sales for games such as USA vs. Colombia, Argentina-Chile or matches featuring Mexico or Brazil. However, there will be challenges facing CONCACAF/CONMEBOL selling tickets to plenty of weeknight games involving lesser known South American and CONCACAF teams in cities such as Philadelphia, Orlando and Seattle. In these instances, attendance could really suffer. Initially forcing customers to buy venue packages of tickets instead of individual games might end up inflating the numbers somewhat, but the number of empty seats viewable on television won’t be what many in the world will expect.
The problems stem from the initial exorbitant ticket prices, a fact not helped by the relative strength of the US dollar at the moment. The real test of the tournament’s strength in terms of ticket sales will not come during the big games, but games such as Ecuador vs. Peru in Glendale on a Wednesday night, or Chile vs. Bolivia in Foxborough on a Friday night. Perhaps the novelty of the tournament will boost ticket sales, but recent signs for games in the US not featuring Mexico have not been promising.
Should the US and Mexico go deeper into this tournament as expected, ticket sales may not become the issue that they could be during the group stage. But the expected swaths of empty seats viewable on TV will not be a good look for the US Soccer Federation, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.
For all of the talk of the injuries, travel and quality of play that the world will see on the pitch starting, they might also see some empty seats. As a possible dry run for a future World Cup, empty seats are not something anyone wants to see, particularly organizers who believe that a 2026 FIFA World Cup is still a potential cash cow.
After this tournament, maybe the cow will be a bit thinner than previously expected.