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Hosting World Cup gave U.S. ‘football’ fever

WARWICK (UK)—The granting of the 1994 World Cup to the United States set in motion a chain of events “that has redefined soccer in America forever, good and bad, up and down,” says Gary Hopkins, author of a new book that charts America’s 25 year journey to becoming a soccer nation.

In Star Spangled Soccer: The Selling, Marketing and Management of Soccer in the U.S.A., Hopkins points to the near bankrupt state of the U.S. Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer) in the late 80s as it made it’s bid, forcing them to relocate to hotel rooms at JFK Airport while only a late intervention from a sponsor stopped their Olympic Soccer Team being evicted from their training ground hotel.

Yet the U.S. Soccer Federation won the right to stage the 1994 World Cup and did it so well, and so profitably, that U.S. Soccer was massively rejuvenated. Popular support of the game boomed.

In 1989 just 3,000 watched the U.S. beat Trinidad and Tobago in a World Cup qualifier but by July 4, 1994, 84,177 would be packed into Stanford Stadium in California to see the United States narrowly lose to Brazil 1-0 . . . with 13.6 million more watching on TV.

Hopkins, a member of the Advisory Board for Warwick Business School’s Centre for Management in Sport at the University of Warwick, points out that the 1994 Cup was so well run that it generated 350 million dollars in revenue and 60 million dollars in profit—all of which was placed in a not for profit fund called the United States Soccer Federation Foundation, which is still used today to promote and support grass roots soccer initiatives in the U.S.

Hopkins argues that soccer bears little resemblance to 1988, which is when the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) announced that the U.S. would play host to the ’94 World Cup.

“Because of this event, America’s youth today see soccer as much a part of the American lifestyle as Basketball, Baseball and Apple pie. Soccer kids in America are as likely to know, Messi Ronaldo and Rooney and the starpower of Barca, United, and Real as they are a the pitcher for the LA Dodgers or the running back for the New York Giants.”

“A game between Barcelona and Real Madrid in New York would outdraw any NFL game played that day. Mexico versus Brazil in Los Angeles would decimate every other sports crowd in America that year. America is already a soccer nation.”

He also points to the recent 2009 “Summer of Soccer” in the U.S. that witnessed  94,000 fans turn up to watch Barcelona play LA Galaxy, 72,000 to see Real Madrid play the D.C. United, and 72,000 to watch the USA play Mexico—numbers any “soccer” country would be proud of, says Hopkins.

“What people need to understand is that American society is changing: The demography is changing (25 percent of Americans will be Hispanic by 2050), and kids interests are changing,” he adds. “There are now more organized youth soccer teams than baseball teams in America. Equally the global media world is changing. To American kids their soccer idols are now just a click away on the computer, a dial away on the remote, or a ticket away on a summer tour. The global power of soccer is encircling and infiltrating America on every level.”

Gary argues that it would be a mistake to underestimate the coming perfect soccer storm that is aligning to turn America into a permanent soccer power.

“Some of America’s wealthiest and most savvy sports investors are behind Major League Soccer, nine new soccer stadiums have been built (with more to follow) to support it , cities are lining up to embrace it, and ESPN is unleashing the biggest marketing campaign its network has ever executed for any sport, in support of its coverage South Africa 2010.

“Add to this that Barcelona, Real Madrid, and every other leading club have America firmly in its sites. These are teams that along with soccer from all over the world, now flood American television screens—including one dedicated 24/7 to soccer.”

Hopkins says over the next 25 years America as a country will change and soccer will be the ultimate beneficiary of that change. “Nothing however will propel and fuel this growth more than the return in either 2018/2022 of the FIFA World Cup to the U.S. If the impact was huge in 1994, it will be stratospheric and unstoppable if it returns.”

More news from the University of Warwick: www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents

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