The United States & Football’s New Cash Cow
A lot has been made about the United States and soccer over the past 20+ years regarding growth and quality. While both are undeniably true the biggest growth has definitely been seen in the pockets of those fortunate enough to be invested in the sport via the “single entity,” sometimes at the detriment of improving the quality of the domestic leagues and the national team. Anyone interested in understanding why the USMNT hasn’t reached the heights the populace feels it should be, should just FOLLOW THE MONEY.
International — Puppet
The CONCACAF Gold Cup aka United States Invitational is the biennial gathering in the United States of CONCACAF footballing nations to vote the United States or Mexico as its champion through a series of competitive football matches. The champion is not as important as the location, which has been the United States since 1991. While the US has the infrastructure to host any international sporting event at a moments notice, the use of the US as the sole (occasionally joint) host for the Gold Cup is absurd. CONCACAF officials know where their bread is buttered, and it’s definitely from full stadia that are possible in the United States. More butts in seats, more possible concessions, more money for the federation and stadium owners whether the US does well or not.
The Copa America is CONMEBOL’s international tournament. Routinely CONMEBOL would invite other nations from the Americas (and abroad too) to participate in the tournament while not being in the South American Confederation. To celebrate the 100th year, they held it in the United States for no other reason than they could and to take advantage of the wealthy American soccer market. Another win for the US Soccer Federation as not only did the team make the semi-finals allowing excitement to persists late into the tourney, but they could also charge even more inflated prices for tickets over the standard inflated prices for tickets. This tourney went over so well, they are looking at doing it again in 2020 for sh*ts and giggles.
The 1994 World Cup hosted in the United States is still the most well attended World Cup in FIFA history. Also that event began the USMNT climb in football prominence so it makes sense why FIFA spreads it around to some of the lesser nations on the off chance they might too become proficient in kicking ball. After the embarrassment to the USSF for losing the 2022 World Cup to a desert nation that has to move its competition to the winter and subsequent FBI neutering of FIFA, the US is back just in time for the initial 48 team World Cup and they are bringing unnecessary friends with ‘em! 2026 was thought of as a shoe-in for the USSF to host by itself, so they added Mexico to strengthen the bid. Then they brought along Canada since FIFA loves nations that will never qualify for a WC on their own getting invites. To further nail home the point the USSF is ‘bout dat paper’, they are hosting 60 out of 80 total matches, and all matches from quarterfinals on. FIFA will be happy to oblige us due to potential revenue.
International Champions Cup
The International Champions Cup is the annual Summer celebration of European football powers in the United States. It initially started from humble beginnings and was affordable at even the most sexy of match-ups. Two years ago I decided to check out Inter v Manchester United at FedEx Field. Price for a pair of tickets about 10 rows from Shinji Kagawa was about $180. If you wanna watch Harry Kane vs Daniele de Rossi at RB Arena it will run you $250+ easily for comparable seats. Had to sell a Kobe Bryant rookie card to afford to go to Manchester United v Barca at FedEx Field this Summer.
The USSF finds itself in an interesting position with its principal rival in the region. Mexico seems to be perfectly fine playing second fiddle to the US financially as long as they get some sort of cut (see WC 2026). This action comes on the heels of Mexico playing most of their friendly matches within the United States. This deal certainly seems to benefit the US more than it does Mexico. Mexico can draw fans either side of the border, but they can charge a better price on this side of it, even though Mexico does get a nice benefit of playing in the U.S. on its own through a marketing deal.
Lastly, let’s not to forget the clash within the federation. The USMNT aren’t as successful as the USWNT have been, few teams in sports are. This came to a head in 2015 and 2016 during the USWNT contract disputes. One of the biggest arguing points was how much each team brings in to the federation. Why? Real business like if I do say so myself. The ladies got a new deal, however, and it was much deserved. Some of the money finally went to someone the pockets of someone else.
Domestic — Puppeteer
The MLS Cycle
Pro/Rel for the US aside, MLS is currently in an expansion phase of the cycle. The same expansion that the country needs, also limits the desire from owners to even consider the idea of promotion and relegation. Imagine you spend $150M to get a team into the league and they get relegated the first year. They aren’t trying to see hear that noise. However, why the hell are there $150M fees just to join the damn MLS anyway? The league already makes quality money that they pocket or give to foreigners to get more butts in the seats. I’m not an experienced league builder or anything but I feel like the best way for growth would be through organic promotion and relegation, but no one in the USSF hierarchy is interested in natural growth, just the money.
The MLS currently has a mandate to throw as many numbers at people in the hopes you won’t check them or much less even care how they got them. Well my math teachers always wanted me to show my work when solving problem to receive full credit. MLS claims it had a banner year as far as attendance goes with an average attendance of 21.5k fans per match. That seems like a mighty fine number if there wasn't evidence that could possibly refute it.
Red Bull Arena has a capacity of 25k, they announced a crowd of 21.5k, they went full 2017 inauguration on the numbers there. You might ask why does MLS lie about the numbers? Well, its not a lie but more a half truth. These announced numbers are likely tickets sold, which include corporate sales and the like. They show these numbers as a way to influence the market. Simple supply and demand. MLS is showing there is a demand for its product, they can artificially inflate the price, and make you pay more for a seat with 10–15 other people within earshot. They make more money for tickets, you watch a 32 year old Schweinsteiger pull off skill moves he’s never done before, in areas of the pitch he rarely ever saw, against players they want you to think are credible. They aren’t. Money is really crippling the improvement of league.
This is stupid. Get rid of it. Please.
The US Soccer Federation really needs to take a hard look at itself if they are to make that next step in progress to building a football power. A couple things need to be accomplished;
- Reinvest money in atypical soccer communities. Atlanta United and NYCFC are making strides here. More avenues for the young or old & washed to get into the game is always a great idea.
- Establish the parent and child relationship between the federation and the leagues. Top down not bottom up. The inmates currently run the asylum. Sunil Gulati should be running Don Garber not the other way around. They also should both be out of jobs, but that’s an entirely different subject.
- Pro/Rel. Enough said. Organic growth better than manufactured growth. The only promotion and relegation currently in American soccer, is promoting new twilight European players to huge contracts, and relegating the former foreign imports to retirement.