As a “true-blue” Aussie and lover of football, there is nothing more I would love to see than Australia winning the right to host a World Cup. If I was a betting man, I’d definitely splash some cash on Australia hosting the World Cup… one day. Just not in 2022.
Whilst Frank Lowy and many football followers here in Australia remain optimistic, I have to say I am not.
I feel the 2022 World Cup will go to the USA, for many valid reasons.
First of all, everyone talks of the wonderful event that was the Sydney 2000 Olympics and the incredible job we did at hosting those games. I can remember vividly the buzz that existed around the city for those few weeks back in 2000, and I have no doubt that a World Cup would be even better.
Problem is, what no one is willing to talk about is what a failure the Sydney Olympics was in terms of television ratings.
The 2000 Games were the lowest ratings games in North America, with a significant drop also in Europe from previous Olympics.
I know, the time difference is something we can do nothing about and it’s simply a result of our geography, but even so TV ratings and advertising exposure are a significant part in the decision making. FIFA charge ridiculous sums for advertisers to align themselves with the World Cup, and in exchange advertisers get “exclusive” rights as well as access to billions of viewers.
US television station NBC lost millions after securing the rights to Sydney 2000, with viewers failing to rise for the 2am, 3am and 5am start times – not to mention the cost of sending and accommodating hundreds of staff to cover the Games for the duration.
The 2011 rugby World Cup is being held in this part of the world in New Zealand, where games are scheduled to kick-off at 9pm local time to cater for the northern hemisphere audiences, given the ratings failings of previous sports sojourns, such as 2003 rugby World Cup and Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Another reason why the 2022 World Cup will go to the USA is the sheer economic power it has over Australia.
Global powerhouses like Coca Cola, MasterCard and McDonalds are housed in the United States and are all official FIFA sponsors.
The United States provides a bigger economy, broader market and vast population well in excess of Australia’s. For commercial partners, the USA makes a hell of a lot more sense.
In football terms, the USA is a developing market and a market that FIFA are determined to win, such was the reasons given as to why the USA was handed the rights to the 1994 World Cup, and the battle is still not assured of victory.
Football/soccer in America has seen significant growth in recent years and MLS crowds and viewers are on the rise.
Soccer has been given more media coverage and mainstream attention following the arrivals of David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Freddy Ljundberg, Juan Pablo Angel and Rafael Marquez.
The 2010 World Cup was the highest rating World Cup of all-time in North America, with ESPN shelling big bucks to secure the rights.
Team USA have shown great promise in recent years and their current crop of talent is hailed as their “golden generation”, following strong results in the last two World Cups.
In Australia, the A-League has seen a significant drop in crowds, as well as several clubs on the verge of folding. The Socceroos most recent home international against Paraguay, only managed to attract a crowd of 26,000, even with a full strength line-up against World Cup finalists.
It was only a few years ago that the NSL and Soccer Australia both folded, amid vast amounts of debt, and whilst tremendous progress has been made since this time, it does not exactly fill FIFA powerbrokers with confidence when deciding to give Australia the World Cup.
The Australian bid has not gone without its negative publicity, largely generated due to the conflict with the AFL regarding access to stadiums.
Australia will have to commit millions of dollars in building new stadiums and developing existing stadiums simply to get to the minimum criteria that FIFA sets in a World Cup.
The United States will not have to lift a finger in this regard. The USA is awash with countless World Class stadiums, purpose built for football, with several NFL stadiums averaging over 70,000 capacity as well as smaller boutique MLS stadiums.
The USA has done it all before, hosting a well received tournament in 1994. The USA has already got the infrastructure in place, they have the stadiums, and they have the economic capacity and the biggest marketplace in the world.
With the USA economy currently struggling for confidence, FIFA can expect President Obama to provide larger economic commitments than other countries are capable, given his desperation to secure the tournament to boost confidence in the economy and his political campaign.
Other countries up for the tournament include Japan and South Korea, who both previously co hosted in 2002. Both loom as dark horses and each have significant economic capabilities, however I feel as though FIFA feels more water should go under the bridge before it is the Asian powers turn again.
The other bidder is that of Qatar.
There is no secret to the billions and billions of dollars that Qatar has. However, there are a number of negatives that I feel blight the Qatar bid’s hopes.
The climate is also a big issue with temperatures soaring in the June/July period, and whilst the Qataris are promising underground and air conditioned stadiums, you still have to factor in the comfort of spectators.
Furthermore, Qatar is a Muslim-state where the consumption of alcohol banned in public. This ensures that any Qatar World Cup would not come along with the party atmosphere that accompanied that of 2006 in Germany and 2010 in South Africa, and seemingly every World Cup before them.
This will also mean FIFA will do without lucrative alcohol sponsorship that tips millions into the coffers each four years through the likes of Heineken and Budweiser.
The ability for women to attend games in Qatar is also a question that requires answering, given it is currently not possible for them to do so. Another question is also the attire expected of women during the event. Any Qatar World Cup shouldn’t expect to see supporters like the Paraguayan female fan who caught so much attention earlier this year.
The Qatar bid does have one supporter, however, in Asian confederation boss in Mohammad Bin-Hamann. This causes significant concern for Australia, with Asia’s bid committed to Qatar through Bin-Hamann being a Qatari, and he has also come out and trumpeted Qatar’s bid to high placed FIFA executives.
If Australia cannot even convince their own confederation then they are right for the World Cup, then how are they expected to sway the many other FIFA committee voters?
Australia will one day host a World Cup, and I hope to be around to see it.
However in 2022, all roads lead to the USA!