The 2016 Copa America Centenario kicked off in the US this past week, celebrating the tournament’s 100th anniversary. The competition features the ten South American confederation members (or CONMEBOL – the sometimes confusing acronym for the region) and six CONCACAF members to round out a robust field of nations.
Reports from ESPN have suggested that talks are already under way between CONCACAF and CONMEBOL officials to place the Copa America tournament permanently in the United States every four years. While the concept is certainly interesting to many in the Americas, we examine why it may or may not be the best choice moving forward.
1) Money. There is really no other way to describe it.
The Copa America Centenario has already generated a tremendous amount of revenue for all involved. The opening group games have featured attendances of 67,000 (USA/Colombia), 60,000 (Mexico/Uruguay) and 69,000 (Argentina/Chile). These are incredible figures by any standards, especially when expensive ticket prices and concession sales in the arenas are factored in.
On top of these impressive numbers, the tournament brings in huge television rights deals both domestically and abroad. The mainstream sports scene in the US has gravitated towards this event and interest is at an extreme high.
For global stars like Lionel Messi and Neymar, larger exposure to US audiences in the future will provide them more marketing and commercial opportunities. For diehard fans of the sport in the country, the idea of having this tournament in their own backyard every four years would be a dream come true. Capitalizing on these types of attendance and television numbers would be smart business for both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.
2) The infrastructure the US has to offer for an event such as the Copa America is a major factor.
Utilizing high quality and high capacity American football stadiums throughout major cities, the state of the art experience at all of the national teams’ fingertips is extremely influential in this possible decision. ESPN’s report earlier this week cites CONMEBOL representatives as stating that the facilities available in the US have made this permanent idea even more attractive.
The stadiums, hotels and training facilities throughout the country make the tournament experience comfortable for teams and fans alike. Having these pieces in place makes the coordination of this event easier and more efficient.
3) CONCACAF teams stand to benefit greatly from this merging on the field as well as off. Teams like the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica will be able to test themselves often against stronger South American squads.
The competition that can be provided from these encounters could help to grow these national teams to new heights. Years down the line after this possible decision, CONCACAF’s top nations would improve their overall quality of play on the international stage.
1) The most glaring negative here is for the South American nations themselves and the tradition of such a great competition. The oldest and most storied international association football tournament in the world is leaving the continent in which it was formed.
Purely from the most wide-eyed and romantic view of the sport, the choice does feel right.
For supporters throughout South America, this idea must turn the stomach. With Brazil and Ecuador slated to host the Copa America in 2019 and 2023 respectively, fans would be displaced from attending and revenue for the countries themselves would be lost as well. Major tournaments can provide a significant financial boost to the countries and cities in which they are held.
While the South American national teams may be compensated handsomely for their US adventures in the future, the countries they represent may not be so lucky.
2) While the US-hosted Copa America may bring great revenue to the national teams involved, there is no true guarantee of where that money will end up. Football federation presidents and board members throughout the CONMEBOL region have had issues with national team finances. Profits are often skimmed and players have not always received their proper pay.
If the money that comes in becomes even larger, the chances of these types of problems taking place increases even more.
Traffic Sports USA previously held the marketing rights to the 2016 Copa America Centenario, before indictments of bribery and money laundering in a FIFA corruption case led to the company pleading guilty to the charges last year. Early in 2016, Soccer United Marketing was awarded the rights to the Copa America Centenario.
Soccer United Marketing, or SUM, is the marketing arm of Major League Soccer that works primarily with the United States Soccer Federation. US national team matches, international tournaments and summer friendlies throughout the country all fall under the SUM umbrella. SUM was created in 2003 to help inject revenue into MLS, as the early years of the league came with great financial losses for owners.
United States Soccer and MLS work very closely with one another. In that regard, it should come as no surprise that MLS’ own website is reporting the merged Copa America rumor as well. The US Soccer Federation and Major League Soccer see the potential money involved and want this tournament badly, no matter the consequences.
3) The precedent that this decision would set could have a tremendous impact on a variety of different competitions in the regions moving forward. Could World Cup qualifying become a joint venture as well?
While that could set CONCACAF up with greater competition, it also sets up the possibility of missed World Cups for some of the teams. A combined Copa America would also signal the end of the Gold Cup, CONCACAF’s international championship held every two years. While a merged Copa America would provide a great opportunity for the top teams in CONCACAF, smaller squads in Central America and the Caribbean would suffer.
For many countries, reaching the Gold Cup and the revenue that comes with it is vital for survival and improving their national team. Since they would most likely have to battle the top teams in the confederation to qualify, the thought of making the Copa America seems an impossible dream. The CONCACAF Champions League could see its end as well, if the idea of merging the Copa Libertadores comes to pass.
The logistics of some North American club teams traveling to South America for a mid-week game could prove extremely difficult. Qualifications for the FIFA Confederation Cup and FIFA Club World Cup come into question as well. A CONMEBOL/CONCACAF Copa America could change the face of the sport in the Western Hemisphere – but is it necessarily the correct change?
Should the Copa America be staged permanently in the United States? Should the tournament stay in South America? Let us know what you think!
By Roy Emanuel, TFN Columnist on 07/06/2016 at 23:15