Commentary

Centenario jams up an already crowded calendar

Aside from the problem of what to name a Centenario-type competition matching the nations of Conmebol and Concacaf -- there can’t be another Centenario, obviously -- the primary issue will be when to play it.

This comes up because, for the first time, the beloved European Championship -- which snugly fills the void between World Cups and enables all manner of player hirings and managerial firings -- is clashing directly with the Copa America Centenario. Granted, the U.S. TV market is hardly a primary priority for UEFA’s grand event but in the battle for coverage and ratings the Euros, for the first time, have some competition.

This especial edition of the Copa America kicked off a week before the Euros and for another week will be staging games amongst the best teams in the Americas on the same days as those matching the best of Europe thousands of miles away. The Euros will press on until a champion is crowned in Paris July 10 and by then the dust will have settled and the true effect of the Centenario can be better assessed.

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The Centenario is supposedly a one-off event, never to be repeated, but a string of thrilling matches, unforgettable goals, egregious officiating decisions, and -- most importantly for a tournament dubbed by cynics as the “Copa Dinero” -- big crowds paying big prices for tickets and good TV ratings has ratcheted up speculation of it becoming a regular part of the global soccer calendar.

Considering that staging it at all seemed dubious a year ago in the wake of arrests and indictments that swept up many leaders of the national associations as well as regional governing bodies, along with the dissolution of the entity empowered to sell its broadcasting and marketing rights, the Centenario has done well. But is it a viable enterprise going forward?

National teams and clubs from Europe have flocked to North America each summer for decades in pursuit of lucrative friendlies and brand awareness. Such will be the case again in July and August, when Arsenal and Manchester United and Inter Milan and Liverpool and Real Madrid and others cross the Atlantic and play in the Guinness International Champions Cup.

The Centenario probably won’t affect the popularity and ticket sales of those games in any appreciable manner. Sure, fans of Man United might have come out to see Antonio Valencia play for Ecuador, but with Man U coming here anyway, why not wait for the real thing?

A few years ago, MLS commissioner Don Garber described the market for international soccer in North America as “insatiable.” A few Centenario games have been poorly attended, but many more have either been sellouts or drawn big crowds. The very idea of staging a hallowed South American tradition in the United States didn’t dissuade officials in both confederations from going ahead, and there are dozens of countries that desperately need to money along with good publicity, so a regular edition of a similar competition isn’t at all farfetched.

Conmebol has announced the next Copa America will be hosted by Brazil in 2019 and apparently its regular quadrennial scheduling will be continued. The Gold Cup is staged every two years in odd-numbered years, but Concacaf could clear the calendar for a pseudo-Centenario by going to a quadrennial format.

If not, the only logical alternative is to stage it in the same even-numbered years as the Euros and Summer Olympics. There’s no direct competition for players between teams from Europe and the Americas, and the Olympics as a U-23 competition will always spark conflicts between national associations and clubs. So nothing new there.

But many clubs, especially those in Europe, won’t take kindly to another international competition that necessitates four or five stressful weeks for players who are supposed to be resting. Said clubs already release players several times a year for long flights to South America for qualifiers; a summertime money-grab added to the existing regional competitions isn’t going to go down well.

Still, the Centenario is obviously filling a need, that of South American fans who already live in the U.S. and those willing and able to spend what’s needed to see their teams in America, along with the growing segment of domestic patrons eager to see real soccer of good quality. A market dominated for decades by European national teams and clubs -- aside from those anticipated visits of Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina -- is getting its first real dose of South America.

A successful run by the U.S. has certainly helped, but as the attendance at Met Life Stadium -- 79,194 – for the Colombia-Peru quarterfinal shows, there’s a whole lot of customers out there.

 

 

 

13 comments about "Centenario jams up an already crowded calendar".
  1. Gus Keri, June 18, 2016 at 7:40 a.m.

    Tournaments with 12 teams are not going to last for ever. Confederations make more money with bigger tournaments. Changes will come to both Copa America and the Gold Cup, sooner or later. I am sure we will see this type of 16 teams Copa America again and again.

  2. Claus Fischer replied, June 20, 2016 at 6:53 p.m.

    Yes, simply because even the Bolivas, Paraguays, and Uruguays can do the math numbers. Though they bow out after only their three group games, their payday for participating in this particular USA hosted Copa America outstrips what they can earn in any foreseeable South America-only Copa America tournaments. It outstrips what they "won" as participation money in any recent memory Copa America. (Exception -- when Uruguay goes all the way to the final as they did five years ago.) This is a no-brainer. They may not like the USA at all, but including the USA is a big financial boost. Having the USA host the tournament? If done right (better than what we are seeing in this tournament), the financials far outstrip when, for example, Bolivia will host in June 2023. Only Brazil hosting a Copa America might compare with the better money these South American national teams can earn in a USA hosted tournament. So, yes, we can all look for CONMEBOL to have a series of meetings where they come up with something that makes it a hemisphere tournament, making very sure that the USA and Mexico will always be part of it.

  3. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis, June 18, 2016 at 7:45 a.m.

    You can't seriously believe that the off season teams the European clubs bring over in summer are "the real thing."

  4. Joey Tremone replied, June 19, 2016 at 10:46 a.m.

    That was goofy, wasn't it. This Copa has been incomparably more 'real thing' than those friendlies, where 80% of the players play 60% of the minutes at 40% effort. Here we've got players getting tossed for anger, coaches getting fired, reputations being made (Wood) or enhanced yet again (Dempsey).

  5. Ruberth Valencia , June 18, 2016 at 11:18 a.m.

    Antonio Valencia plays for Ecuador, not Colombia. Just a quick reminder.

  6. David Crowther, June 18, 2016 at 6:22 p.m.

    What makes sense to me is to play an expanded 16 team Copa America on the same schedule as the existing Copa America; the year after each World Cup. Do away with the Gold Cup entirely or just play it the year before each World Cup. That way you wouldn't be adding an extra international competition, nor would you overlap with the Eurocup, the Olympics, and World Cup qualifiers. For Concacaf, what are now the Gold Cup qualifiers would become the Copa America qualifiers. Plus the top finishing Comebol and top finishing Concacaf teams at the Copa America would qualify for the next Confederations Cup.

  7. Claus Fischer replied, June 20, 2016 at 7:01 p.m.

    Yes, please. I agree. Here, here when you write, "Do away with the Gold Cup entirely." The Gold Cup is a pure joke. Is this then financially difficult for the Hondouras, El Salvadors, Panamas, T&T's, and Guatemalas. Yes, it is. Too bad. Soccer fans want real, competitive matches. The Gold Cup is just warm up matches for Mexico until perhaps the semi-finals. It is a joke of a tournament. (Now, it used to have one function for Cuba: It offered an opportunity for some of its players to defect....)

  8. Bob Ashpole, June 19, 2016 at 11:12 a.m.

    I agree that the combined confederations cup is exciting. A regularly held "Americas" cup is a great idea. (Mexico, however, provides real doses of North American soccer.) What I don't agree with is the discussions that imply that national team performances are some kind of measure of soccer success in the confederations. I believe the world's greatest game's success is measured by the number of teams (209 men's and 177 women's) participating, not which confederation has the best teams.

  9. Jeffrey Organ, June 20, 2016 at 10:08 a.m.

    The money in the United States is too big to ignore and is why a tournament like the Centenario will regularly happen in the future. South America soccer has been struggling for years and will likely view direct access to the US, and also Mexico and their own expatriate fans here, as a way to change the trajectory of their fortunes. There is no reason why the Americas can't develop an integrated soccer community that can rival Europe and do a better job of keeping talented players at home. This process also has the potential to begin to produce sustained quality in select CONCACAF countries other than the US and Mexico. I hope the new leadership in both Confederations can get out of the way, avoid parochialism and empire building, and figure out how to build on the success of this event. We shouldn't care when or where European tournaments are played...they certainly don't care what we do.

  10. Claus Fischer replied, June 20, 2016 at 10:07 p.m.

    Well stated, Mr. Organ. If nothing else, hunger for more money/revenue streams will carry the day. Countries like Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia are dirt poor. So are their soccer federations. It is obvious to see that a more lucrative Copa America could simply be titled the Copa Americas -- a tournament with byes for the big, seeded teams and qualifiers for all the Carribean, South American, and Latin American minnows. There is no reason at all such a men's national teams tournament cannot rival UEFA's quadrennial Euros AND why the tournaments like the Copa Libertadores should not include qualifying US/Canadian/MLS and Mexican teams - routinely as a full hemisphere rival to the Champions League.

  11. :: SilverRey ::, June 20, 2016 at 2:54 p.m.

    Copa/Gold Cup year before WC.
    .
    Combined N.Amer/S.Amer tournament year after WC (name TBD).

  12. Claus Fischer replied, June 20, 2016 at 7:18 p.m.

    But maybe it is this oversaturation of games that results in what can only be termed as very poorly attended games in which Brazil was involved? How about that whopper of a crowd of just 12,000 in Glendale, AZ (and all the matches in Orlando)? Candor means stating it like it is: Pasadena was only half full for Brazil - Ecuador. Brazil only drew barely respectable crowds in Orlando and Foxborough -- not enough for Foxborough's Gillett Stadium to be hankering for Brazil to come play there again anytime soon. At some point even all the greedy tens of thousands of people who profit from this (major networks in dozens of nations, various media, journals, journalists, sponsors, etc.) need to recognize that no tournament matters so much anymore. To keep just a tad of meaning to these tournaments, teams like the USA and Mexico must scrap the Gold Cup. (After all, the USA fans haven't sold out a stadium yet or come close in Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle) in their own hosted tournament. I say that part of this in year 2016 is due to the residuals of how utterly poorly the USMNT performed in the 2015 Gold Cup. But it is also because there is always "The next game...." right around the corner.

  13. Claus Fischer, June 20, 2016 at 6:44 p.m.

    "Granted the US TV market is hardly a (primary) priority for this UEFA event." Really? This couldn't be further from the truth. Okay, "primary" TV target is the 50 European nations, but the potential USA/Canada TVaudiences far outweigh all but Germany, France, England, Italy, and maybe Spain in those respective nations. UEFA knows the goldmine of interest in North America oustrips anything that they can win in terms of financials from Malta, Greece, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Bosnia, Georgia, Moldova, and on and on. How does Portugal garner more money for UEFA than the USA? Answer: It doesn't. It cannot. The last thing that UEFA wants is something competing with their darling annual Champions League and quadrennial UEFA Euro tournaments. The marketing and TV rights that feature the top European leagues, European club teams and European national teams is of vital interest to the moneymen in Nyon, Switzerland. Others have written this above: The money in North America is way too massive for UEFA to overlook. AND: Yes, they want it -- want it all. (Do you understand this, MLS?)

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