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Chicago needs to join next U.S. World Cup

Mundial
The opening ceremony of the 1994 World Cup at Soldier Field (AP file photo)

By Philip Hersh

A few things have slipped by lately while I was working on other things.  I'm getting to them one-by-one -- this is the fourth and last -- and linking you back (below) to the three I have already covered.

4.  The 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands draws a rating of 8.1 on ABC, largest U.S. audience ever for a men's soccer game.

An 8.1 rating for any TV show is impressive these days.  And this was for a telecast on a summer Sunday afternoon.  And a match with teams from countries that do not have huge immigrant populations in the United States.  And the rating doesn't include all the U.S. viewers who watched the Spanish-language broadcast.  And the third-place match between Uruguay and Germany at the same time a day earlier drew a 3.1.

The significance of those numbers?

They don't mean that soccer is on its way to challenge the big three U.S. sports - football, baseball, basketball.

They do mean that the World Cup definitely is a big deal to U.S. viewers, even after their own team is eliminated.  That interest owes greatly to the ever-growing commitment to the event made by the Evil Empire (that's ESPN).  The coverage from South Africa was exhaustive (and exhausting during the opening round when there were three or four televised games a day).  The match commentary and in-studio analysis was compelling and informative.

They also mean Chicago needs to get aboard a boat it chose to miss last fall.

With those ratings and the measure of interest shown by the large number of U.S. fans who traveled to South Africa, the international soccer federation (FIFA) would be foolish not to give the 2022 World Cup to the United States when it awards the 2018 and 2022 tournaments Dec. 2.  (England has been considered the 2018 favorite.)

And, if that happens, maybe Mayor Daley (should he run and win re-election next year) will get over his hissy fit of post-Olympic-bid pique that led the city not to submit itself as one of the possible host cities in a U.S. bid.  As in the case of Olympic bids, venue changes for the World Cup can be made after a city or country is picked.

Chicago will have to spend some money on Soldier Field to meet FIFA requirements, but the amount -- some $1 to $2 million -- is not be a deal-breaker.  And, the experience of the 1994 World Cup, when Chicago hosted six matches (including the opener), showed how much positive exposure (and tourism dollars) it can bring the city.

In fact, Chicago could benefit more from the World Cup than the World Cup organizers would.

Because Soldier Field is smaller than stadiums in all the other 18 host city candidates -- it has more than 10,000 fewer seats than all but two of the other stadiums currently in the mix -- would be a substantial difference in ticket revenues, one of the organizers' primary revenue streams

The 1994 World Cup had nine venues.  There could be a couple more the next time in the United States, given the number of new stadiums built since 1994. 

Whether Daley or someone else is running the show, Chicago needs to be one of them.

The previous installments:

1.  Hurdler Allen Johnson leaves competitive track and field at age 39.

2.  The U.S. Olympic Committee board last week rejected the Tagliabue committee's recommendation to stop having immediate past chairmen serve as honorary president and attend board meetings.

3.   French cyclist Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli wins her 57th national title at four months shy of her 52nd birthday -- and 31 years after winning her first.

 
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