What does the future hold for the Copa America?
1930, the year that the World Cup was born and duly won by South American’s in the form of Uruguay. The all conquering Uruguay who won gold at the 1924 Olympics and would go on to secure another World Cup 20 years later in 1950. The World Cup owes a lot to Uruguay, even more so South America and CONMEBOL, who effectively gave birth to the idea of professional tournament 14 years earlier in Argentina with the 1916 edition of the Copa America.
The Copa America marks it’s 100 year anniversary on foreign shores this summer, but aside from the celebration of a centenary the staging of this years tournament points towards a future that is uncertain and born out of scandal. Upon it’s first staging in 1916 the Copa America had only four entrants; Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile. 100 years later the Copa has expanded not only in size but by the number of federations now actively involved in the tournament as a whole.
South America has long been looking upwards, not only geographically towards their northern neighbours Mexico and United States, but also in terms of television revenue. Desperate to showcase their talent to the World, CONMEBOL has often widened boundaries in it’s regional tournaments to achieve increased television rights. Since the late 90’s Mexican teams have been taking part in the Copa Libertadores and have regularly invited the mens national team to take part in the Copa America itself. CONMEBOL has since expanded it’s horizon’s by allowing Mexico along with one other from CONCACAF to participate in the Copa.
However, the obsession with television rights has landed CONMEBOL in deep water, with US authorities exposing a number of officials trading TV rights well below market standards through bribery. As the Copa travels to American shores for the first time in it’s history, it does not seem as though a celebration has taken part at all, rather the Copa returning to the scene of the crime with it’s tail firmly between it’s legs. That being said, there are some positives as CONMEBOL teams will benefit greatly from increased television revenue, which has been split on a 75/25 basis between them and their CONCACAF hosts.
Whilst this years Copa seems to act as somewhat of a telling off for the South American’s, their consistent leaning towards their northern brothers could become the formula for an expanded tournament. One factor that both markets have in common is their reliance on television. Socially, the North has an entire expat population of Mexicans, Colombians and Argentinians (to name but a few) who all show the desire to watch their local and national teams on a regular basis. Economically, MLS sides such as Los Angeles Galaxy in particular, have finally realised this with some acquisitions made over the summer. Giovani Dos Santos, Nelson Valdez and Kaka have all joined MLS as clubs go in search of those markets. There is huge demand for American, Mexican and, to an extent, Canadian television studios to show foreign leagues, Liga MX in particular has drawn sizeable ratings over the past 5 years.
As the Copa tours round the ‘States there is a sense that both federations would be open to collaborating on tournaments in the future. Football, or soccer, is gripping the USA like never before with a recent survey finding that 12-24 year olds class the game as their second sport. Quite bewildering considering USA ’94 was a mere 22 years ago. And as only the USA knows how, the Copa America is growing in popularity across the nation as social media support ramps up and two games a night are shown nation wide. Of course, the participation of the USMNT in their first Copa since 2007, and on home soil helps things a little.
As with any tournament at a large scale across two continents there are a number of factors that could hinder a so called ‘mega tournament’. The calendars of both federations do not match added with the intense amount of travelling across both continents seen as more of a hindrance to players who are already jaded from a long season in Europe. This recent iteration of the Copa has also seen opposition from some members of CONMEBOL, most notably Wilmar Valdez of Uruguay who stated that the tournament was made with ‘Mexico in mind’ and that the US ‘does not live and breath football, and that causes problems’. On top of that, negotiations for the tournament inclusive of rights and sponsorship may put paid to the oldest tournament in the World, and nobody wants that. Especially CONMEBOL.