With the 2010 World Cup wrapped up and American football, the odds are that soccer will retake its place behind the four major sports in terms of popularity in the U.S.
Until December 2nd that is.
On that date, FIFA will announce the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Other candidates for 2018 are England, Russia, and joint bids of Spain & Portugal, as well as Belgium & the Netherlands. These same teams are eligible in 2022 along with Australia, Japan, Qatar, and South Korea.
Why The U.S.?
Some may wonder why the U.S. is so favored with other more soccer-centric nations also in the running. Well the main reason is that it makes business sense. For better or worse, money talks in sports—and the U.S. is certainly one of the loudest.
Thought I loved watching the 2010 World Cup, some news outlets reported that it didn't meet FIFA's financial expectations. They invested a lot of money to get the venues built in time but once they were up, ticket sales were slow.
And with the issue still looming about a month before the tournament, FIFA may be hesitant to take that risk any time soon.
With South Africa fresh on the minds of FIFA members, they will look for a host nation with pieces already in place—a nation that won't need to scramble to get stadiums built and tickets sold. America would have no problem with either.
Our 1994 World Cup still holds the World Cup records for average and overall attendance. To host it a second time would undoubtedly shatter both marks for two reasons: For one, the 1994 Tournament had 52 games as opposed to 64 games in the past four Cups. The other reason is the proposed venues for 2018/22 vs. the venues of 1994. Our proposed venues for the 2018/22 Cup all expect to seat in the upper 60,000s, which means more revenue for everyone.
So which year is the U.S. more likely to host? Let's break each of them down.
The U.S. is putting forth a strong overall bid, but the European nations may to have the advantage for 2018.
The frontrunner seems to be England. Their infrastructure is on par with that of the U.S. and their passion for soccer is certainly stronger. Based on the 2006 host selection, they are also "the next in line" to host the Cup. They finished third in the vote, which took place in 2000, behind Germany and South Africa (the last two hosts), but I don't look too far into that logic.
Russia, on the other hand, is reportedly ready to spend $10 billion on the tournament and many believe that FIFA president Sepp Blatter favors a Russian World Cup. After all of the money put into South Africa, a Russian World Cup seems like a home run financially.
But the European domination doesn't stop there. Two of the joint bidders (Spain and Holland) just met in the World Cup final, giving an added boost to their respective bids.
Host nation success could be a problem with a Belgium-Netherlands World Cup. The Netherlands will probably make another tournament run, but can the same be said for Belgium, who have failed to qualify for the last two Cups? It may not be the deal breaker when voting, but after South Africa failed to advance out of the group stage FIFA may think twice before awarding a less successful nation the 2018 Cup.
The Spain-Portugal bid is greatly benefited by Spain's World Cup victory and Portugal also has one of the top-ranked squads and in the world. They also have a strong bid in place, but it will be tough for either joint bid to top England and Russia.
What makes Europe the favored World Cup destination is their universal love for the game. The president of the European confederation, Michael Platini, recently called soccer in the U.S. "a relatively weak sprout" compared to the "sequoias that are American football, baseball, basketball, and ice hockey." While these comments may not sit well with American soccer fans, he's telling the truth.
While soccer could someday supplant ice hockey as our fourth sport, it will never hold a candle to our three powerhouses.
There is the possibility that the European vote gets split between all of the nations and the U.S. comes out on top, but even that is unlikely.
Assuming that the 2018 World Cup will be held in Europe, is the U.S. favored to host in 2022?
All of the European bids would be ineligible for 2022, leaving only Australia, Qatar, Japan, and South Korea in our way.
Let's eliminate Qatar right away.
Though an Arab World Cup is a great idea for the future, they won't be ready by 2022. At the moment, they lack World Cup-capacity stadiums and their national team has yet to qualify for a World Cup.
The weather in Qatar would also be a problem. The average temperature in June and July? 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Not exactly ideal playing temperatures. Though they've discussed using cooling technologies for indoor stadiums, it could still be a problem.
Japan and South Korea, joint hosts in 2002, are both putting in separate bids to host the 2022 Cup. Both have the infrastructure and the stadiums since they hosted in 2002, but the fact that they just hosted eight years ago will probably hurt them more than it helps them.
Australia is the wild card for 2022. They have experience in hosting big sports events (2000 Olympics) and have yet to host a World Cup.
Their national team has had a bit of success in recent years, making the Round of 16 and losing to the eventual champions 1-0.
There has been lots of uproar from Australia's other big sport (Australian rules football), over their season possibly being interrupted by a World Cup. How big of a role will that play in FIFA's voting?
Regardless, the U.S. is still the better choice financially and that may be the deciding factor come December. We have everything in place to host the tournament today, if necessary, and the economic gain for both the U.S. and FIFA would be massive—much needed on this end.
Our national team is also making huge strides in international soccer. It's impossible to gauge how good a team will be twelve years down the line, but the U.S. team should continue to get better.
So who has the edge in the bidding? It's tough to say, but the U.S. should like its chances of hosting a World Cup in the near future.
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