SBJ/June 17-23, 2013/In Depth

Gulati talks about FIFA post, state of soccer

U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati will not discuss much about the 2014 FIFA World Cup for one simple reason: The U.S. men’s national team has not qualified for it yet. Beginning with a match Tuesday against Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah, the club has three matches left to earn a spot in Brazil. However, the 53-year-old Gulati, who was named to the 25-man FIFA Executive Committee in April, was able to speak about the state of U.S. soccer with reporter Christopher Botta.

Could your new post with FIFA help in the push for a future World Cup in the U.S.?
GULATI: It’s a seat at the table of FIFA’s board of directors, so it’s important for U.S. Soccer in general. As for
future World Cup sites, that’s more difficult to say. Those are decided by all of the members of FIFA, so that’s 209 votes. But certainly you develop more relationships, so it can’t be anything but positive.

How would you describe the health of the business of the U.S. Soccer Federation?
GULATI: It’s very healthy. We are in the business of making investments in the game of soccer. The way we measure returns is not the way a commercial entity would, obviously. We’ve got a pretty good capital reserve and we’re investing some of those resources that we’ve built up over the last 5-10 years. The commercial revenues of any governing bodies are cyclical, in general. As you get closer to the men’s World Cups, the earlier years are slower. It picks up this year and next year as the national team hopefully qualifies.

We’ve been in a long-term deal [with ESPN] that expires at the end of next year. A lot of our commercial deals with
Said Gulati, “At some point, I’m sure there will be a day when we don’t qualify [for the World Cup]. I just hope that’s a hundred years from now.”
Photo by: Getty Images
Soccer United Marketing [the commercial arm of MLS] and with our TV partners, sponsors and Nike — our deal with Nike is independent of SUM — expire at the end of next year. It’s important to see how the future will play out.

How did ticket sales for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa for Americans compare to the rest of the world?
GULATI: Americans purchased more tickets for the last World Cup than anyone outside of South Africans. We’re continuing to see the growth of the game in the U.S. in so many ways. The announcement of Manchester City and the Yankees buying an MLS franchise is just the latest. So many important signs — whether it’s the number of kids playing soccer, the number of soccer matches being shown on American TV, or the TV ratings for the U.S. national team — are up. My guess is that U.S. ticket-buyers will be at the top of the list for the World Cup in Brazil.

As the team faces a busy slate of crucial games between now and September, is it possible to articulate how important it is for the U.S. to qualify for the 2014 World Cup?
GULATI: It’s extremely important. The sun will still shine the next day if we don’t qualify, but it would certainly cause a loss of momentum for us. At some point, I’m sure there will be a day when we don’t qualify. I just hope that’s a hundred years from now.

What’s it like to be the U.S. Soccer Federation president in the stadium during all of these tense qualifying matches, with so much at stake?
GULATI: It’s hard, especially during games that are close — and they are almost always close. You don’t want it to come down to the last qualifying game [Oct. 11 against Jamaica in Kansas City]. These next few months are as critical as it gets.


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