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Posted at 2:47 PM ET, 12/ 1/2010

Things to be thankful for as World Cup decision day nears

By Jeff Maurer

The second most pivotal day in U.S. soccer history is two days away. The U.S. bid for World Cup 2022 is strong: we've got big stadiums (which produce lots of money), a diverse population (with money), a vibrant soccer culture (with untapped sources of money), and infrastructure (which makes it easier to get to people's money). But we face serious competing bids from Australia, Qatar, South Korea, and Japan. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to be highly suspect of FIFA's voting process (I mean: Jack Warner has a vote. That's like letting Bernie Madoff continue to manage your finances). Anything can happen. Still, there are reasons for optimism, and with the Thanksgiving spirit still coursing through my veins, I've put together a list of things that U.S. soccer fans should be thankful for as decision day approaches.

U.S. fans should be thankful for:

Terrorism. Rightly or wrongly, when many people think of Qatar, they think of terrorism. This concern strikes me as slightly off-base: is there any place in the world that isn't a potential target for terrorists? I mean, who is currently NOT on Al Qaeda's "to kill" list? Will Smith (people love that guy)? Betty White (who doesn't like Betty White)? Are people worried about Qatar's proximity to places like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and if so, why do they think that Al Qaeda are only interested in attacks they can reach by a one-day bus ride? Are Al Qaeda that cheap? Are they afraid to fly?

The worldwide financial collapse. Qatar doesn't have stadiums: they have plans for stadiums. Who's going to pay for those stadiums? Well, we are: oil and natural gas account for 70 percent of Qatar's government revenue, and we're their largest importer. But it's dicey to try to predict the future of an economy so dependent on a single commodity. I mean, what if Congress passes a comprehensive energy policy (now THAT is the funniest thing I've ever said on this blog)? Economies collapse, financing falls apart. There's a reason that D.C. United's Poplar Point Stadium isn't part of the U.S. bid.

Alcoholism. If you're an alcoholic in the U.S., you have two options: 1) get sober, or 2) move to Europe. A "serious problem" here is a "cheery disposition" in Europe. I dare you to try to match a European drink-for-drink for an entire soccer match; your brain and liver will stage a coup against your digestive track before half time. But it's how they do things over there. And it created a lot of problems during the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea, when many matches kicked off at 6:30 a.m. in Europe...aka "bed time". A World Cup in any Asian country (including Australia) would similarly interfere with the time-honored European drinking/singing/fighting/stumbling home/bedwetting ritual.

Global warming. Qatar doesn't need global warming to be hot: the average high in July is 114 degrees. Celsius! Well, no, Fahrenheit, but still, it's hotter than the devil's crack and isn't going to be any cooler in 2022.

North Korea's military aggression. South Korea and Japan were long shots to begin with, but from the perspective of the Japanese and South Korean bid committees, Kim Jung Il certainly picked a bad time to remind everyone how crazy he is.

The rise of China. FIFA wants to expand the game, and they want to expand to China. There's a lot of money in China not being spent on soccer, and FIFA would like to change that. But they also don't like to give the World Cup to the same federation twice in a row. If they give the World Cup to an Asian country in 2022 (and Australia counts as Asia in the soccer world), then they can't give it to China in 2026. That's a lot of undervalued yuan for FIFA to leave on the table.

Greed. Here's our basic pitch to FIFA: "Look at all of our gigantic NFL stadiums. Now picture all of those stadiums filled to the brim with money. US 2022." I mean really, it's just about that simple: FIFA will make more money on a World Cup in the U.S. than in any other country.* The 1994 World Cup is still by far the most attended World Cup in history: average attendance was 68,991. Germany 2006 is second at 52,491. And it's not just our huge stadiums, it's our ability to fill them: Americans love sports, love the World Cup (more Americans watch the World Cup than the World Series), and we've got a substantial immigrant/expat/second-or-third generation community from every country in the world. Slovenia vs. Ghana on a Wednesday? No problem: arrange a couple buses from Cleveland and D.C., and we'll fill the Meadowlands. And think of the sponsorship dollars that would be doled out by Coke, Nike, McDonald's, etc. Could we see a return of McDonald's three-patty, three-cheese gold medal burger from the 1992 Olympics, re-dubbed the "hat trick burger"? One can only dream.

* Not counting money made through bribes. 

By Jeff Maurer  | December 1, 2010; 2:47 PM ET
Categories:  Jeff Maurer, United  | Tags:  D.C. United, Jeff Maurer, U.S. National soccer team  
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Comments

1) Qatar does have a stadium. They hosted Brazil vs Argentina a few weeks ago.

Posted by: JeanJak | December 1, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Of all things to be thankful for... this is not one of them.

By the way, how much money will be spent to bring the World Cup to the U.S.? Would there a return worthwhile for the investment? I don't think so.

Posted by: bal503 | December 1, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

@ JeanJak: you're right: Qatar does have a stadium. Three in fact. And they will all need significant renovations before the World Cup. And the other nine exist only on in artist's renderings.

@ bal503: Not everyone agrees about whether World Cups make money or lose money. But, since I'm not a journalist, I don't have to pretend that both sides of the argument are equally credible...they're not. The people who know what they're talking about seem to agree: a World Cup in a country with infrastructure already in place makes money.

We made money in 1994. France made money in 1998. Germany made money in 2006. Things only get dicey when you start building stadiums that you don't need later on. Japan built stadiums that no longer have much purpose, and they might end up losing money in the long run. South Africa might be headed down the same path. But we're not making any similar infrastructure investments, so I don't see how we possibly come out with a net loss on this event.

You can debate how MUCH money will be made all day and all night. The US Bid Committee estimates an economic impact of at least $5 billion and the creation of 65,000 to 100,000 jobs, but those numbers - which are the result of a study funded by a party with an interest in the outcome - should be taken with a huge grain of salt. It's easy - and valid - to disagree with the methodology of an estimate that makes so many (necessary) assumptions. And nobody should be under any illusion that the World Cup would have any statistically significant impact on the US economy - $5 billion would be .034% of the 2010 US economy. But since we're not building any stadiums, airports, subways, or freeways specifically for this event, I can't see how we'd possibly end up losing money.

So, is the return worth the investment? If we get the event, unequivocally yes.

Posted by: JeffMaurer | December 2, 2010 12:34 AM | Report abuse

Not knowing Jeff Mauer at all, other than what I read on this blog, I wanted to chime in that I find his writing to be funny and entertaining. I hope you keep writing, Jeff. Thanks.

As for the WC 2022 bid, it would be nice if each generation could have a World Cup to attend. It's been a long time and if FIFA really is about money, the US should win the bid.

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | December 2, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse

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