DETROIT (Reuters) - The U.S. soccer team may have been knocked out of the World Cup, but a much bigger match awaits in December, when FIFA decides what countries will host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.
U.S. bid officials remain confident the country offers the sport’s global organizing committee the right combination of growth and sure-fire safety and profits to win the right to host its second World Cup after staging the most profitable tournament ever in 1994.
“We have experienced some growth in soccer, but the glass is half-full,” David Downs, executive director of the USA Bid Committee, told Reuters, referring to the potential for further growth of the sport in the United States.
Twenty-four FIFA executives will select the host cities at its headquarters in Zurich on December 2. In addition to the United States, England, Russia, and combined bids by Spain and Portugal and by Belgium and the Netherlands are competing for 2018. Those same bidders, as well as Qatar, Australia, Japan and South Korea, are up for 2022.
Analysts agree a European country is expected to win the right to host in 2018, leaving Qatar and Australia as America’s main rivals for 2022.
U.S. officials are not likely to withdraw from bidding for 2018 until October, when the voting procedure for December is revealed and horse trading can begin, analysts said. With 13 votes needed for victory and only three votes in its regional bloc, U.S. officials are likely to cut a deal with a European rival in 2018 for their support.
“It wants to play this deal-making role,” Mihir Bose, author of the book, “The World Cup: All You Need to Know,” said of the U.S. bid committee.
Europe has eight voters on the FIFA committee, but they will be split among the region’s four bidders, so America’s bloc could be critical, Bose said.
A victory by Russia would only boost the U.S. 2022 bid, he said. Russia is a less-safe choice and voters may then prefer to balance that with the stronger finances offered by America, whose 1994 World Cup is still the highest attended and most profitable in history.
Downs is well-aware of the possibilities.
“One of the things that may well play out is that our bloc might have some ability to influence a decision one year and that might in turn give us some leverage in 2022,” he said.
GROWING INTEREST IN USA
While Americans may be glum following the U.S. team’s exit after a loss on Saturday to Ghana at this year’s World Cup, they are getting behind the bid effort. The number of signatures of support at www.gousabid.com has ballooned to about 750,000 from 350,000 in May when former president Bill Clinton was named honorary chairman of the bid committee.
The U.S. team played at its sixth consecutive World Cup and its last game on Walt Disney Co’s ABC and Univision Communications drew the most U.S. viewers ever for a World Cup game at 19.4 million.
Throw in that Americans were the largest group of ticket buyers outside of the host South Africans, and the U.S. bid committee is projecting a record-breaking 5 million tickets sold and more than $1 billion in revenue for its tournament and the U.S. bid may be hard to resist.
However, FIFA officials go their own way, and Qatar would offer a ground-breaking event by making it the first World Cup hosted in the Middle East or a Muslim country, Bose said. “(Sepp) Blatter, the president of FIFA, is like a politician, they think of legacies after all these years,” he said.
English success for 2018, on the other hand, would hurt the U.S. bid as then FIFA officials might lean away from putting the tournament at two safer choices in consecutive Cups, Bose said. America also is not known as a soccer-mad country.
“The U.S., the superpower, when it comes to football frankly is a Third World country,” Bose said. “America has to overcome still that barrier.”
Downs said America offers growth as a soccer market, while not needing much if any infrastructure investments.
U.S. bid officials have said a World Cup would have an economic impact of $5 billion and create as many as 100,000 jobs during the preparation and operation of the event.
Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, editing by Matthew Lewis
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