World Cup Needs America, Like It Or Not
The stage is set for the world’s most anticipated and viewed sporting event: the World Cup.
For those of us that consider football to be a game played on Sunday and with a brown oblong ball, this might not strike you as anything very interesting. But to the rest of the world, this quadrennial event is the equivalent of our Super Bowl, World Series and Stanley Cup all wrapped into one.
There is no doubting that soccer is popular and growing in the United States, with the influx of immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America. With that increase in popularity, the World Cup is becoming a bigger deal here in the U.S.. More and more Americans are joining their neighbors from all parts of the globe to live the spectacle that is the Cup.
This year’s Cup in South Africa has a very American feel to it. Not only does the United States have its best chance to advance in the tournament in 60 years, but Americans are flocking to the country buying up tickets and wielding our substantial financial influence.
In fact, U.S. fans have bought more tickets than any other nation outside of South Africa. U.S. television networks have also paid the highest media rights fees of any nation.The US is a finalist to host the World Cup (in either 2018 or 2022) for the second time ever. The last time (1994) was the first and only time every ticket to every game was completely sold out. American affluence and hunger for the sport fueled the greatest financial success FIFA had ever seen.
With that in mind, you’d think FIFA would be excited about the fact the US is driving such interest in the sport. You'd think the "sleeping giant" of U.S. soccer would excited the governing body. Not so says one of its leaders.
"You may be confusing the world of football (soccer) with the IMF or the World Bank," says Michel Platini, a top executive of FIFA, the international governing body of international soccer. "When it comes to decision-making in international football, the U.S., like Germany or China, has as much power as San Marino, Vanuatu or Belize."
Whether Platini admits it or not, the World Cup needs the US more than ever. With a global recession, Americans and their wallets – including the large television networks – throw more money at the tournament than everyone else combined. FIFA and the World Cup increasingly need American interest and money to keep the expensive show afloat. Yes, it might be the world's most popular sport, but America is its richest and most important benefactor.
For once, this non-soccer fan will be rooting for our US team to kick some arrogant international soccer booty. Even if that means I have to wake up at four in the morning to watch it.