Money matters in U.S. World Cup bid

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With the eyes of the soccer world quite rightly turning toward South Africa, it is easy to forget that another event with great significance to the future of the World Cup will also take place this year.

Months after thousands of fans and the planet's finest players have left the African continent, the decision over which nation will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will take place in a room in Switzerland filled with bureaucrats and voting slips.

The process is one fraught with pitfalls – England's effort may have been derailed by its bid chief's ill-advised comments that were leaked to a newspaper – so no one is doing too much talking just now.

However, the United States committee can take some positive signs from a related event on Friday, when France was nominated as the host for the 2016 European Championships.

Within moments of France beating out an outstanding Turkey bid by a single vote (Italy was a distant third), soccer powerbrokers were locked in private discussions about how the outcome would affect December's World Cup host decisions. France's victory boiled down to a factor of stark simplicity.


Financial matters have rarely been seen as so important in soccer as they are now, and despite all the attractions of a Turkish bid that had been honed by two past failures and held widespread appeal, the fact remained that a tournament in France will make more money.

Gone is the romanticism that has been prevalent in recent times, such as when Austria-Switzerland were given the nod two years ago and Poland-Ukraine for 2012, a move which is now causing UEFA constant administrative headaches.

That money-first mindset is likely to weigh heavily in December, too.

This year's World Cup will be a spectacular occasion filled with historical and symbolic significance as the greatest show in sports comes to Africa for the first time ever. But it comes at a huge cost. South Africa's infrastructure has needed massive upgrading and billions have been poured into stadium developments.

The following tournament – 2014 in Brazil – will see the World Cup make a welcome return to South America after a gap of 36 years. But it too will unlikely be high on profit and there are already concerns that preparations are well behind schedule.

Ever since the bidding for 2018 and 2022 began, the USA has tried to position itself as a safe pair of hands and guaranteed financial success. The 1994 World Cup in the U.S. still holds attendance and profitability records, thanks primarily to the easy availability of giant NFL and college football stadiums that are tournament-ready.

France swayed a handful of fence sitters by constantly harping on about the global economic downturn and the need for a tried and tested option.

"We asked ourselves whether we wanted to be candidates in the middle of a crisis," French president Nikolas Sarkozy said. "But sport is an answer to the crisis. It is because we are in a crisis that we need sport. Nothing is more powerful than sport and, within sport, nothing is more powerful than football."

The U.S. is likely to adopt a similar approach in December and could find success if it does so.

The American bid is a long shot for 2018 as voters may be loathe to stay away from a European host for a third time in a row, leaving Spain, England and Russia to fight it out. However, if a European country is given rights for 2018, all European bidders would then be excluded from the 2022 process to be held a day later.

The sheer size and strength of the American financial market carries weight. Television contracts for a tournament held in this country would be off the charts, especially as soccer continues to grow year over year.

"We have proven ability at staging a successful and profitable World Cup and we know we would put on a spectacular tournament," U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said recently. "For us the important thing is getting the message out there and making sure we go into the vote in a solid position."

This week, lost amid the furor of the World Cup countdown, that position just got a little stronger.