IT SAYS a lot about the growing status of the US in the football world that the country’s exit from Russia 2018 is making headlines.
There is a touch of irony about it, for with relations between the US and Russia taking on a distinct Cold War look these days, not everyone will be unhappy there will be no representation from the United States. It’s 1980 all over again!
However, both the Russians and FIFA will surely not be pleased that the US is missing for the first time since 1986. It is certainly a setback for the development of the game in the States, for progress has certainly been made since they burst onto the scene in 1990.
The US is one of the biggest television markets for the World Cup, the other big market is China, and both will not be participating in 2018. From an economic perspective, this is a blow for FIFA, for Russia and the broadcasters.
The list of FIFA partners and World Cup sponsors is influenced by US business, although with the rise of China, there is more diversity in FIFA’s backers. But FIFA still lists Coca-Cola, Visa, MacDonalds and Budweiser among its partners, all bedrocks of US consumer life. With the US no longer in the frame, and growing concerns about reputational risk, will these big names get their money’s worth out of the 2018 World Cup?
FIFA have lost key supporters like Emirates and Sony and had trouble getting support for the Russian World Cup. The Brazil World Cup in 2014 had twice as many sponsors a year ahead of the kick-off. There are a number of reasons, but the recent corruption scandals have not helped and Russia’s tarnished international standing has deterred some backers. Unfortunately, local companies have failed to step-up to compensate.
Furthermore, it seems likely that ticket sales will be lower than in recent World Cups. In England, for example, the appetite for match tickets has been very lack-lustre. In Euro 2016, around half a million UK fans made the journey across to France, despite fears of terrorism. Experts anticipate that between 10,000 and 20,000 England fans will travel to Russia with many deciding to stay at home due to the prospect of hooliganism. RT reported this week, though, that ticket sales had passed the two million mark. The US absence may leave a big hole in demand.
It was widely thought that Russia could ill afford the 2018 World Cup and the preparations have been fraught to say the least – only this week, a fire broke out at the Nizhny Novogrod stadium being built, the third such incident in the past few months at stadium sites.
Economically, Russia is recovering from recession after two years of contraction and in the third quarter 2017, its GDP grew by 2.5%. The World Cup budget has been strained, but the government has stumped up more money to ensure deadlines are met.