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.
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.