2018 World Cup bid a longshot
The "pot of gold" factor definitely favors the United States as it mobilizes increasingly ample soccer resources for a World Cup 2018 bid.
But simple historical data suggests that recruiting soccer's quadrennial championship in 2018 will be a tough, uphill slog.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati has acknowledged U.S. interest in pursuing a second World Cup, as first reported earlier this week by the Washington Post. So, what are the realistic chances Gulati et al can claim the grand prize?
Not awful, but not great either -- at least not for 2018. In the final analysis, the chances actually seem greater that World Cup 2014 could fall into the waiting arms of America.
But for now, we'll talk about 2018, since that's where U.S. Soccer is focused. The federation has nothing to gain by maneuvering publicly to bump South America from its place in the rotation, which is 2014. Brazil is the lead horse in that race.
"The World Cup that's open is 2018," U.S. Soccer spokesman Jim Moorhouse said. "FIFA is on record that certain parameters must be in place [in South America] by 2014, and who is to say how that's going to play out. But from our perspective, this is about 2018."
So, what about 2018? Given FIFA's perpetual jones for a financial fix, Uncle Sam seems to be sitting pretty. There's absolutely no denying that a World Cup staged here provides the surest thing in a chase for the proverbial pot of gold.
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Mammoth stadiums and the unstoppable U.S. marketing machine would once again become a virtual printing press for cash, just like in 1994. Almost everybody connected with World Cup 1994 scored financial hat tricks, even against dire predictions of general indifference and financial woe for the event.
Expect no such gloom-and-doom forecasts this time around. Soccer's steady progress en route to greater cultural relevancy here, plus the financial proof from 1994, has removed all doubt.
The stadiums were packed in 1994, and look what has happened in the U.S. sports facility landscape since: Developers have created a new generation of bigger and better grounds, with enhanced revenue mechanisms. Stadiums spill over not just with more seats, but with additional luxury boxes to be sold at a premium, with more opportunities for advertising and with a greater appreciation for the wide concourses that encourage commerce.
For instance, FedEx Field (80,000 seats) in the nation's capital will make lots more money per match than RFK (56,000). A World Cup here would once again set attendance records, surpassing the 1994 high-water mark of 68,991. (Compare that to 52,491 last summer in Germany.)
Creative solutions will be required to extinguish the potential fires in naming rights issues and existing stadium contracts with other sponsors; FIFA wants to control all that itself, obviously. But visions of handsome profits will encourage compromise among all parties.
Consider some grounds built since World Cup 1994: Qwest Field in Seattle, Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, FedEx Field in Washington, Reliant Stadium in Houston and Qualcomm in San Diego are all shining examples of stadiums on steroids, with supercapacities, enhanced amenities and extra leg room in those indulgent suites.
And that's not to mention the monsters being developed, including an 80,000-seat facility for the NFL's Jets and Giants. That one will include 10,000 club seats (ka-ching!) and more than 200 suites.
It is quite plausible that by 2018 (or even 2014), a World Cup could be staged here entirely in facilities constructed since 1994.
On the other hand, history and FIFA's European-centric nature are decidedly against the U.S. bid, especially if the 2014 event goes to South America as expected. Let's not forget where FIFA is housed: in Switzerland, in the charming heart of central Europe.
FIFA has been especially generous to Europe through 18 previous World Cups. Never have two consecutive tournaments taken place without at least one played in the Old World.
Obviously, the selection process is evolving, with Asia and Africa now solidly in the mix. Statistically speaking, Europe simply can't have as many World Cups if Asia and Africa continue to mingle equally in the new rotation.
Still, it's hard to imagine a full three cycles coming and going without European participation. That would happen if the 2018 flag is planted on U.S. soil. The potential breakdown: South Africa has 2010, South America gets 2014 and the United States secures 2018.
That would put a full 16 years between World Cups in Europe, which is unthinkable in EU circles. That brings us back to 2014.
FIFA policies tend to be more guidelines than rules, often as pliable as a garden hose.
It's quite plausible that FIFA suits declare that "the Americas are the Americas," and proclaim North and South America the same for World Cup placement purposes.
(The United States does, after all, participate in Copa America, no?)
"If something happened where 2014 became an option," Moorhouse said. "We're ready to discuss that as well."
Brazil's economy isn't awful, but it's not great either, stuck in a slow-growth mire for the last 25 years. The nation's stadium situation would require major overhaul.
So the U.S. could carefully craft a bid that indicates some flexibility. Implicitly stated would be the country's ability to accelerate its operation, to ride to the rescue if FIFA is left scrambling for a Plan B in 2014. That "safety net" would give FIFA latitude to get creative, assign 2014 to the United States, then welcome 2018 back to Europe.
The theory here is that FIFA could easily create the necessary wiggle room with a "United Americas" doctrine.
World Cup 2018? That looks like a long shot.
World Cup 2014? Don't be surprised if it happens.
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.