Tuesday, June 24, 2014
When this blog is posted we will have completed 11 days of the World Cup and the end of the second round of group play. Some fascinating facts have already emerged promising new amazing statistical memories. The U.S. finally beat Ghana, 2-1, in their third encounter in as many World Cups. Previously, Ghana had been the spoiler to the U.S. team’s dream of the finals defeating our team ironically 2-1 each time. Our first match win included the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history at the 32 second mark by Clint Dempsey, and John Brooks, a substitute, became one of the youngest US players to score in a World Cup game.
All the excitement over the month-long tournament translates into significant viewership. Records have been set both around the world and especially in the United States. What feeds the uptick in viewership is both a growing interest in the sport and options in television and streaming video. ESPN and Univision broadcast all the World Cup games and the Watch ESPN app allows for viewing on the go. We were at a soccer tournament last weekend, but got to see every game thanks to the stream. The numbers are encouraging. ESPN had 11.1 million viewers for the US-Ghana game and Univision (and sister stations) had 4.8 million viewers for nearly 16 million total. Adding to that number were 1.4 million on the Watch ESPN app and 1.7 million on Univision’s stream. ESPN is up 23 percent over the 2010 World Cup and Univision is up an amazing 48 percent.
Monday’s match between U.S. and Ghana compares favorably with many of the concurrent sporting events. The Stanley Cup finals on the previous Friday had just 6 million tuning in. Sunday the NBA final between San Antonio and Miami attracted 17.9 million viewers. Soccer has a way to go before eclipsing American football. However consider that the average television audience for the Jets - Giants NFL game last year was a 14.1 share in New York City compared to that city’s 14.4 share for the US – Ghana game. In 2013 the NFL averaged 17.6 million viewers per televised game, which nearly parallels the audience for the US – Ghana match. Of course several games are offered on any given weekend day, so total audience could be three or four times that amount. However if we look at the average U.S. audience for all World Cup games thus far, we are near the 5 million mark. The Super Bowl drew 111 million US fans, while the 2010 World Cup finals had 24 million American viewers. If this year’s numbers hold up, this World Cup final promises to have an even bigger U.S. audience. World-wide it’s expected that this year’s World Cup finals will have over 800 million fans watching.
Controversy over the costs of hosting a World Cup became particularly acute for this contest because of the displacement of many impoverished Brazilians, not to mention the construction of stadiums in locales where they will never be fully utilized again. Stadium construction and upgrades cost over $3.5 billion with the additional costs of infrastructure, security, housing, transportation, and media soaring to over $14 billion. Sadly much of the promised projects which would have improved the quality of life in the long term for the cities hosting matches have not materialized. Tram lines, highway improvements, and links between city transportation and national transportation were canceled. Manaus, a city deep in the Amazon, cannot be reached by roads. The citizens had hoped that some of their isolation would be mitigated by infrastructure improvements, instead they have a gigantic stadium which no local team would ever fill. To be fair, Brazil is also hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics, so many of these expenses cover that event as well. But Brazilians complain that hospitals don’t have beds, schools are short on supplies and books, highways are inadequate for traffic, and public transportation is spotty and expensive. They argue that money should be spent there rather than for “monuments” which will never be properly enjoyed. Additionally citizens complain that the money doesn’t stay in Brazil but gets funneled into FIFA’s coffers, and the jobs that preparations supported will be gone in July. These staggering costs would probably not be true should the US ever host since we have been actively building soccer-specific stadiums and our American football stadiums could easily accommodate games in the summer when football is on hiatus. Nevertheless, Brazil highlights the argument that people need to be careful of what they wish for.
Speaking of costs, what does it cost to attend the World Cup? “Plenty” is the answer. Package deals were probably the best way to go because they provided airport transfers, travel around the country to various host cities, meals, rooms, and, of course, tickets. You could purchase packages to follow a team throughout group play, packages for a particular host city, packages for the round of 16, packages for the quarter- and semi-finals, packages for the final game, and any combination of these. The least expensive would be for a particular host city since there would not be added transportation around a country as huge as Brazil, but even these went for around $3500 to $5000 a person. Depending on the team country you wanted to follow the packages had a huge sliding scale with the US, Brazil, England, Spain, and the Netherlands commanding the highest prices starting at $6500 and climbing to $12,000. Any one of the three tiers of finals cost dearly in the range of $10,000. If you want a hotel room in Rio for the finals be prepared because most hotels are requiring a six to eight day stay at around $450 a night for a three-star hotel (on a scale of five). No matter that only one of the four quarter-final matches on July 4th will be played in Rio and nothing again until the final on July 13. If you wanted to take your chances on creating your own “package” count on $1,800 for airfare, $2,000 for the cheapest rooms for a week, tickets beginning at $90 if you were lucky enough to snag the ones off the FIFA website early and up to several thousand dollars for ticket brokers, and transportation to get to venues that are all at least 500 miles apart and some with a 2000 mile separation, and food, which will be the least of your expenses.
How many fans will be paying these prices? According to FIFA at the last World Cup in 2010 in South Africa nearly 3.2 million fans attended the 64 matches with an average of just over 49,000 per match. These fans consumed 750,000 liters of beer and 390,000 hot dogs at the venues. Over six million additional fans participated in viewing parties at 16 sanctioned sites around the world. Those who had to watch from home had the benefit of 245 channels spread across 204 countries with a world-wide viewership of 715 million for the final match. FIFA anticipates over 3 million at the Brazil tournament with over a half million coming from outside the country. The US alone purchased 200,000 tickets for matches. That number doesn’t include the thousands of US soccer fans who traveled to Brazil to watch the matches at viewing sites that don’t require tickets.
Every World Cup wouldn’t be complete without firsts and mosts that come up throughout the month. Landon Donovan was hoping to be the first American male to play in four World Cups, but two players, Antonio Carbajal (Mexico) and Lothar Matthaus (Germany), have played in five World Cups. Brazil has played in every World Cup which began in 1930 and Brazilian Mario Zagallo holds the honor of being only one of two who have won the World Cup as both a player and a coach. Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer is the other. Brazil holds the most titles with five and national player Ronaldo (not to be confused with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo) has the most goals, 15, in his World Cup career. Germany has played in the most World Cup matches (100 as of their June 16 match vs. Portugal) and Brazil has the most World Cup goals (210). The fastest goal ever scored was 11 seconds by Turkey’s Hakan Sukur in 2002 against South Korea. In this tournament Spain set the dubious record of being the only reigning World Cup champion to be mathematically eliminated before playing its last group play match. Only two World Cup finals have been decided by shoot-outs: 1994 when Brazil beat Italy and 2002 when Italy beat France. If you want to consider costs, the first team to withdraw from the World Cup because they couldn’t afford the entry fee was Sri Lanka in 1978. In 2002, the World Cup had the first (and only) cohosts with South Korea and Japan who were also the first Asian hosts. Moreover, 2002 was the first time that the quarter-finals had teams from five continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. Brazil has finished in the top 16 in every single tournament. Germany ties Brazil with the most top eight finishes with 16 each and with the most finals reached with seven each. The difficulty of achieving a championship can be demonstrated with the fact that only two teams, Brazil and Italy, have consecutive wins with the streak ending at two. Netherlands has the debatable honor of being the team with the most top two finishes (3) and never being champion. Pele holds the record as the player with the most championships – three. The only host team eliminated in group play was South Africa. Germany just celebrated playing the most World Cup matches reaching 100 this week.
We use statistics to predict how a contest might be resolved. Yet what we see on paper doesn’t necessarily translate to the pitch. Still it’s fun to learn what countries have traditionally done well, how the history of the game has evolved. For example draw finals games before 1978 were simply replayed rather than decided with shoot-outs and FIFA used the drawing of lots to decide knockout round ties. The strength of certain countries can’t be assured by past performances, as Spain has sadly learned. Likewise the USA benefitted from an outcome which was not predicted based on our past matches with Ghana. We are witnessing the growth of soccer’s popularity in America as well as our admission into the brotherhood of world-class teams who have pedigrees we can’t ignore. Whether you think of soccer as an exciting sport or a deeply significant, nearly religious experience, we have to admit that World Cup fever is worth contracting every four years if only for the chance to feel the thrill of victories, the heart-pounding tension of close games, and expectations that are either realized or dashed. For a month, the world joins together to celebrate through battles that don’t end in lost territory, dangerous attacks, or casualties, unless of course you use these as an analogy to explain how the U.S. beat Ghana — we took over their field territory, we made successful attacks to come out victorious, while suffering the loss of Jozy Altidore and the injury of Clint Dempsey. Still a skirmish like that provides a safe, exciting way to support our patriotism.