SBD/March 10, 2014/Events and Attractions

Gulati: More U.S-Based Fans Likely To Attend '14 World Cup Than Any Other Foreign Edition

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Gulati cited the U.S.' budding interest of soccer as a reason for higher attendance
It is nearly certain that more U.S.-based fans will attend the '14 FIFA World Cup in Brazil than any other foreign edition of the tournament in history, according to U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati. In its most recent ticket distribution report for the event -- released late last month -- FIFA reported that out of 1.5 million total tickets that have already been assigned to fans who applied via the organization’s lottery system, U.S.-based fans have been assigned 125,465 tickets -- the most in the world besides the host country. Gulati last week said, "Other than the '94 one, which we hosted, I don’t think there’s any question this will be the most well-attended World Cup by American fans." Similarly, SportsMark, which is the exclusive sales agent in the U.S. for FIFA's Match Hospitality packages, is seeing unprecedented figures for this summer’s tournament. While SportsMark Senior Dir of Global Sports & Entertainment Consulting Jessie Giordano declined to provide specific figures, she said that the company's sales are already five times greater than what the company ended up with at the '10 tournament in South Africa. At least one package has been sold out for over a year. She said that the U.S. also is in the top three countries in the world for hospitality sales overall. The lottery ticket figures released by FIFA do not include the tickets sold through hospitality packages. Some individual fans and small groups choose to go the hospitality package route even if they do not want further amenities that traditionally come with such deals, as buying a ticket through the hospitality packages guarantees you a seat -- albeit at a premium -- whereas trying to get one through the lottery system naturally holds no guarantees. FIFA set three price categories for individual World Cup tickets, with prices ranging from $90-990. SportsMark also has three different price categories, with its inventory ranging from $700-100,000.

RATIONALE FOR THE RISE: Gulati, who is on FIFA's Exec Committee and also is a member of its ticketing committee, said that the USSF expected a strong showing in Brazil for a number of reasons, including the tournament being held in the Americas, the growing affinity for the U.S. national team and the fact that the U.S. is flush with immigrant communities. Gulati said, "I think you’ll see at the World Cup itself (that the U.S. team) will have a great fan following for all parts of this process. But the reasons the U.S. numbers are so far beyond, let’s say, whoever is third, fourth or fifth is because there’s a demand for other teams from U.S.-based fans." He also noted a positive contributing factor to this edition of the tournament is the fact that many developed countries have at least somewhat emerged from the most recent global recession, which was in full swing during the '10 World Cup. Giordano noted that yet another reason sales have been so brisk is because, now that the recession’s worst days appear to be over, business efforts in Brazil are again picking up steam again, making the World Cup a great opportunity for B2B outreach efforts. Gulati would not divulge specifics on how much demand has outstripped supply, but acknowledged there has been a "massive oversubscription for games." Giordano noted that SportsMark still has a lengthy waiting list for packages, as some fans are holding out in the hopes that more inventory becomes available. FIFA typically allots host countries the most tickets, and up to this point, Brazilians have been granted 57% of the available tickets in the lottery system. Out of the 3.3 million tickets available overall, a total of 2.3 million tickets have been assigned thus far when including non-fan groups like sponsors, guests of national federations, etc. The remaining approximately 160,000 tickets that are being distributed through the lottery can be applied for in the third and final window, which opens this Wednesday. Gulati said of why the U.S. continues to have more people travel to World Cups, “There’s a world of difference between now and 10 years ago. It’d be hard to pinpoint the specific growth, but all the metrics are showing interest in the game has risen dramatically (in the U.S.).”

BUILD-UP TO BRAZIL: Gulati noted that USSF execs have made approximately 10 official site visits to Brazil thus far, with the most recent one coming two weeks ago for a workshop for the 32 participating teams. He added of overall preparations, "We stayed where we’re going to stay at the World Cup -- in Sao Paulo -- and the hotel and training site are in terrific shape. But not all of the stadiums are done, and some of the logistical challenges that Brazil faces are challenges that every country faces. You get done when you have to be, and that’s about five minutes before kickoff. So I’m convinced Brazil will put on a great World Cup. People need to understand that there’s not the same infrastructure (in Brazil) that you might get in Germany or Japan."

THE WHOLE KIT AND KABOODLE: The USSF and Nike last week unveiled the national team’s '14 kit, and while social- and traditional-media reaction was not entirely positive to the new outfit, Gulati said that is not hurting pre-sales of the jersey. He said, "We expect it to be a very popular jersey. … Any possible jersey that’s going to be selected, is everyone going to like it? The answer’s no. What’s changed is not the fact that people do like jerseys or don’t like jerseys. What’s changed is the ability of people to communicate their views. Technology has changed that." Gulati also addressed his agenda now that he has officially been elected to a third term. He said of what he wants to accomplish in his next four years, "Continued growth of the game. We’re going to renew our focus on success on the field. We’re going to do everything we can to continue the progress of our men’s national team and elevate the place of our women’s national team, which is No. 1 in the world, and do everything we can in terms of player development, so that’s priority No. 1."
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