In December 2010, the FIFA Executive Committee announced that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup. This marked the first time in the 80-plus-year history of the World Cup that a Middle Eastern country was selected. But with corruption allegations regarding the vote and reports of human rights violations regarding stadium construction workers, sentiment is growing that the 2022 World Cup should awarded to the runnerup of the bidding process -- the United States.
The only time that the United States hosted the World Cup was 1994, and it was the most attended and profitable in history. Total attendance was 3.59 million, with games played at nine venues across the country including Soldier Field in Chicago, Stanford Stadium, the Cotton Bowl, the Rose Bowl and Giants Stadium.
With such massive host venues, attendance averaged 68,991 per match. In contrast, South Africa's per-match average was 49,670 in 2010. Since 1994, soccer's popularity has only grown in the U.S. MLS has gained traction, and thousands of soccer fans have crowded places like Grant Park in Chicago and Bryant Park in New York to watch World Cup games like USA-Portugal on a large screen. There's no doubt attendances for live games at actual stadiums would at least match 1994's attendance numbers.
Massive new venues such as Levi's Stadium in the Bay Area, AT&T Stadium in north Texas and CenturyLink Field in Seattle give the United States the potential to host a World Cup in 2022 that would be even bigger and more profitable than 1994.
All three of these stadiums are already equipped to handle international soccer matches almost immediately. AT&T Stadium has hosted Gold Cup games and international friendlies attended by more than 85,000 fans desperate to see good football played in that stadium.
Levi’s Stadium was constructed to fit international soccer dimensions, and the San Francisco 49ers have already announced a formal partnership with the San Jose Earthquakes to bring MLS soccer to their new home. It is almost a guarantee that Levi’s Stadium, AT&T Stadium, and CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Sounders, perhaps the single most popular teams in the MLS, would be part of any new bidding process for the United States to get the World Cup in 2022.
While the United States may not scream “soccer,” the sport has grown tremendously during the past five years, in no small part due to the Seattle Sounders. The Sounders entered the MLS in 2009, and immediately led the league in attendance, averaging about 31,000 per contest. MLS total gate admissions that year checked in at about 3.6 million. Since then, the Sounders have led the MLS in average attendance each season, with steady annual increases pushing it to more than 44,000 this year.
The league as a whole has expanded significantly in the time since the Sounders have entered the league. In 2008, there were 210 matches across the league and a total league-wide attendance of 3.46 million. Just five years later, the number of matches has increased by more than 50 percent to a total of 323, and attendance reached a high watermark of 6.07 million last season -- growth of 75.4 percent from 2008.
These three stadiums have a combined average capacity for soccer of more than 82,000 spectators. Demand for World Cup games will certainly be higher, as most games in the 1994 World Cup sold out and the sport has only grown in domestic popularity since.
With 64 matches in the World Cup, an average attendance of 80,000 would result in a total attendance for the event of about 5.12 million, an increase of more than 40 percent from 1994. The benefits of moving the World Cup to the United States are exactly what FIFA needs amid the negative publicity of the Qatar decision. Such a move would add stability to the event, while also bringing the highest quality soccer in the world to a country with unrivaled spending power where the sport is already growing at a tremendous pace.