As Americans celebrated the Fourth of July in 1988, a present
arrived from Zurich: The World Cup was headed to the United States
for the first time.
”The richest land in the world simply cannot be allowed to
remain a blank spot on the world map of soccer any longer,”
Hermann Neuberger, president of West German soccer’s governing
body, said at the time.
Since that watershed 1994 World Cup the global game is now very
much a part of the country’s sports landscape. There’s a national
team that’s played in six straight World Cups, three television
networks that are pretty much all soccer, constant additional
exposure on ESPN2 and a growing league preparing for its 16th
season – albeit one still struggling to gain attention in a market
dominated by the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA.
Bidders promise another burst of explosive growth if FIFA’s
executive committee awards the 2022 tournament to the United States
when it votes Thursday in Zurich. Australia, Japan, Qatar and South
Korea are the competition.
”We’ve got all of the infrastructure in place, and it’s
extraordinary infrastructure, which allows us to focus on growing
the game and using the World Cup to do that in the United States
and have the U.S. become an important part of the global community
in this,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in an
interview with The Associated Press. ”I think it changes the
economics in a positive way for FIFA and other associations.”
The 1994 World Cup transformed FIFA’s business side.
Names on the backs of players’ jerseys?
It started in the U.S.
First made in America.
All-Star teams and relentless promotion?
Much of soccer has never seen anything like Dallas Cowboys
Stadium, with its 50-yard-wide video screen hovering above field,
10,000 club seats and 300 luxury suites ringing five levels – the
expensive seats alone just about match the 20,224 total capacity of
Portsmouth’s Fratton Park.
Hard to compare that with those in the original bid presented by
the U.S. 22 years ago, which included such antiques as Navy-Marine
Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., John F. Kennedy Stadium
in Philadelphia and Palmer Stadium in Princeton, N.J.
FIFA’s technical report says attendance at a U.S. World Cup
could average 76,000, breaking the record of 68,991 set in 1994. It
says there is medium legal risk because of a lack of government
guarantees, which would require federal legislation after a bid is
”Clearly for us, there is nothing that we could do in the
United States, whether it be our federation or Major League Soccer,
that would be more important than having the World Cup here in our
country,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.
”Hosting the World Cup in the U.S. is by far the biggest
opportunity for our league to capitalize on the growing interest
for the sport and ultimately convert that interest to a deeper
connection with our league, our clubs and our players.”
Gulati and his delegation have spent months lobbying the 22
voters. They’ll bring along a group for the final presentation that
includes former President Bill Clinton, Attorney General Eric
Holder, actor Morgan Freeman, national team star Landon Donovan,
former women’s team star Mia Hamm and her husband, former Boston
Red Sox star Nomar Garciaparra.
”It’s an election,” Gulati said. ”And in some sense, in
elections you never know where you are until the very last minute,
until the vote is taken. There’s not accurate polling, per se. So
we’ll continue to work until the last minute.”
FIFA also is selecting the 2018 site that day, picking from
among England, Russia, Spain-Portugal and Belgium-Netherlands.
USSF officials hope to one day have a team that wins World Cups,
a league that produces clubs as strong as Manchester United,
Barcelona and AC Milan – likely the three most popular teams in the
This year’s World Cup averaged 2,288,000 households and
3,261,000 viewers on English-language U.S. television, up from
1,735,000 homes and 2,316,000 four years ago. The final was seen by
15.55 million on ABC and another 8.82 million on Spanish-language
Univision – well above the 14.3 million average audience for
baseball’s World Series but a fraction of the 106.5 million that
watched this year’s Super Bowl.
”We’re no longer sitting around trying to explain it to them,”
said Chuck Blazer, the FIFA executive committee member from the
When American football officials started getting ready after the
1988 vote, there weren’t proper benches for soccer teams in
stadiums. Aggregate score and injury time were foreign
”The country understands the World Cup now. I’m not sure that
was the case back then,” Gulati said. ”The magnitude of the event
has changed dramatically. Certainly the U.S. with MLS and a
national team that’s been quite successful, all those things are
very different in changing the landscape of the sport.”
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