About US leverage in soccer governance

I hate that I am becoming the new “Takedown-meister” here on BS, but this comment on Ed’s US-Mexico recap has set me off.

Ha! In terms of FIFA, the United States is not a change agent whatsoever, and for very good reasons, we can’t even if we wanted to, and that we probably don’t want to, in the first place.

First of all, I love the very American inability to deal with injustice. “We need to do something. Something must change,” we yell.

Guess what – yelling won’t help.

The USA has almost zero leverage to act as a change agent on FIFA, or CONCACAF or whatever. Here’s why,

1) Blatter and Warner have created an extremely comprehensive and effective network of patronage relationships that ensure small, easily manipulated countries, form up the base of their political support within CONCACAF and FIFA. Blatter learned from the master, Joao Havelange, and has created a nearly iron-clad alliance of third-world votes with Gulf oil money within FIFA. Even big, bad UEFA has very little to use to push FIFA towards policies it likes. They’re stuck too, to a large extent, just like us.

2) I am sure people look at some of the American-instituted improvements in Olympic governance and process and say, “Why can’t we do that in FIFA. Here’s why. Not even Coca Cola and Visa’s considerable support of FIFA comes close to the creating the kind of influence that the USA has over IOC through the enormous rights fees that NBC-Universal pays (and arguably overpays) for the media rights. That gives NBC, and the US sponsors who back up NBC, far more sway over the IOC than US Soccer has with FIFA where its two rights-holders (ABC/ESPN and Univision) only paid $425 million for all FIFA tournaments from 2007 to 2014. Additionally, the American FIFA partners, Coca Cola and Visa paid $500M and $200M respectively for their deals. That adds up to about $1.12B worth of American support to FIFA.

Compare that to NBC paying $1.18 billion for the 2012 London games alone on top of another $820M for the Vancouver games and another $160-200M for parent company GE to become an IOC partner.

Quick point to think about – in the eyes of American TV companies, one Winter Olympics (in a US-friendly time-zone, making it more valuable) is worth twice as much as the both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and all the other FIFA tournaments.

You want to be a change agent? You’re looking at a minimum of $2.16 billion worth of leverage in the IOC right there. Not to pile on, but in order to get a fair comparison, I should’ve also included the investments by American IOC partners Visa, McDonalds and Coca Cola but I couldn’t find good figures for them.

Until we see that kind of investment in soccer from US firms and media backers, we won’t have that much influence within FIFA directly. That is probably the only way Americans could really attract FIFA’s attention to anything. The reality is that they don’t need us nearly as much we need them.

Now that I’ve shown how little influence the US has within FIFA, let me explain far more quickly why it is not in the United States’ best interest to “rock the boat” against CONCACAF and FIFA.

We’re trying to bid to host the World Cup.

That’s why. This is fairly binary here. If we were to get too bitchy about officiating, corruption or whatever with CONCACAF and FIFA, we’d be shooting our World Cup bid in the foot with a very high-powered rifle.

Do I like that Sunil Gulati plays buddy-buddy with kleptocrats like Warner and Blatter and takes part in utterly disgusting acts of slavish devotion like this one?

[ame=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeEPK_lVank”%5DThis will not make you feel proud of US Soccer.[/ame]

Of course not. But that’s how the game is played with FIFA, folks. If you want a World Cup, that’s what it’s going to take. If missing out on another chance to host a World Cup in our life time (and get the knock-on effects on the sport’s popularity here) is worth the warm-fuzzy feeling that being on the side of good sports governance gives you – fine, you’re either childishly naive or an idiot and, either way, you should leave the discussion of the influence and politics of international sport to the big boys. Warm and fuzzy doesn’t work for me and it definitely doesn’t work with FIFA. I want the World Cup here and I understand what it requires to get it.

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13 thoughts on “About US leverage in soccer governance

  1. I agree that we don’t have very much leverage in FIFA. But I don’t think the same holds true for CONCACAF. The Gold Cup is held here every two years for a reason–because the USA, even in recession, even with five other sports ahead of us, is an economic powerhouse in CONCACAF.

    Of course, annoying CONCACAF still runs the risk of annoying FIFA by proxy. But come December, one way or another, that risk becomes much less pressing.

  2. All of that is true, I grant you that. But I tend to treat Warner and Blatter as a single-entity (ha!) because Warner controls one of Blatter’s biggest solid bloc of votes.

    Also, in terms of the US-based companies that sponsor the Gold Cup, I suspect they’re mostly marketing to American Latinos and thus don’t really care if the US were to get the shaft compared to Mexico. I am not at all saying that they somehow would prefer we get shafed, I am just saying that they aren’t likely to get very outraged about it.

    People don’t realize, but Warner and Blatter’s (and maybe even Chuck Blazer’s) close ties could actually help the US win the World Cup bid.

  3. I thought Warner said just last year that he wouldn’t vote for a US bid? He said Mexico would be more sensible (because apparently poverty is an attraction for the World Cup and the richest country in the world, which would also make FIFA the largest profit above anyone else, is clearly inferior in that regard), or even Canada. Basically, he was just saying, “I’m a giant douche bag, but I have power. Suck on it.”

  4. Actually what Warner was saying was “Sure, the World Cup will make more money in the US, but I can steal a lot more of it in Mexico.”

  5. Who are these people that rate blog posts? 2.5 average for this? You gotta be kidding me!

    Back to the topic, so the U.S. can’t pressure FIFA or CONCACAF to fix the ref problem. What about the stadium conditions at Azteca? I understand how backassward politics can be, but is there a way of publicly denouncing the conditions without pissing off FIFA officials?

    (In a perfect world, Suni Gulati would be on ESPN describing what a disgrace the conditions were and demanding the FMF get their shit together)

  6. I actually think it is an open question on what would be better for US soccer in the long run: a) Improved FIFA/CONCACAF governance or b) hosting a world cup.

    The assumption that hosting a world cup is worth the constant ongoing cost of corruption is not one I accept so readily.

  7. I dunno if the US actually has that much pull within CONCACAF. The only reason the USSF lets the Gold Cup be in the US with such frequency is because games with guaranteed full stadiums is a good source of income. Blatter and Wagner are not keen on the US however, always criticizing what they perceive a lack of commitment and the failure of the MLS to become a prosperous league.

    Again, they probably do not understand the mentality of the majority of Americans and the place soccer has as a sport in the country. This however, translates in the USSF having as much pull in CONCACAF as Mike Vick has with the ASPCA. Hell, Blatter even shot down Obama when he was lobbying hard for a world cup in 2018.

  8. I lived in Europe, Madrid to be exact, for quiet a few years. Apparently everyone, except for Americans, consider Azteca Stadium one of the Hallowed grounds in World Football. Complaining about it would just further alienate the USSF from mainstream football. If the US wants to roll with the big dogs it need to learn to play in places like Azteca.

    Every world class stadium is a hellhole for the visiting team. I been to the Bernabeu, the Calderon, Camp Nou, Stamford Bridge, Wembley and i can honestly say they pale in comparison with the intimidation factor with Azteca. Everywhere else in the world this is admired and the antics of the Mexican fans are legendary.

    The reason Gulati doesn’t complain is because he can’t, you loose credibility if you do. No self respecting footballer or manager complains about an opponents stadium. If anything, they are just fun stories for them to tell, just ask Figo about the pig’s head at the Camp Nou.

  9. I’m sure its very easy to admire Azteca like that when you don’t have to go there for a world cup qualifier.

    It is a very beautiful stadium though, despite the denizens.

  10. Far more important is how to get rid of a guy like Warner.
    Unfortunately there are so many Carrib islands that they will always vote one of there own as the head of Concacaf.
    What we could do is begin talking with our North and Central American colleagues and find a way to get ourselves into Conmebol were the competition will be stronger but with far more pull politically because more than likely there would only be about 20 members instead of about 35 with such tiny populations but the same vote as ours.

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