Soccer officials in Americas to discuss future joint events

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NEW YORK >> After staging a successful expanded Copa America in the United States for the tournament's 100th anniversary, soccer officials intend to discuss whether to establish a new event that would see regular competition between the regions.

And, the U.S. Soccer Federation hopes this year's tournament could be a springboard to hosting a World Cup for the second time.

"We hope it influences where the 2026 World Cup will be," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said Friday.

With only the final and third-place game remaining, the 16-nation tournament has drawn 1.36 million fans, an average of 45,491. That's down from the 1994 World Cup in the U.S., but nearly double the average crowd of last year's Copa America in Chile.

"These are World Cup numbers — World Cup numbers for an event organized in seven months with 16 teams," Gulati said.

The Copa America, South America's championship, is played quadrennially a year after the World Cup and includes that federation's 10 nations and two invited teams. The CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean, is a 12-nation tournament played in odd-numbered years.

This year's special Copa included 10 South American teams and six from CONCACAF. New CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani said a new event could be scheduled for the even-numbered years between World Cups — when the European Championship is played — or the year before World Cups.

"Those are the two years that make sense," he told The Associated Press. "Having said that, we still have to talk to FIFA. There's a few hurdles to jump over: European clubs, all that kind of stuff. So we'll see."

Montagliani said CONCACAF would have to scale back the Gold Cup to once every four years to create room on soccer's crowded calendar.

"We remain open to hearing any proposals and ideas," new CONMEBOL President Alejandro Dominguez said. "It's very important to remain open-minded, and this has been a success."

Gulati joked that following Britain's vote to leave the European Union, a new event could include England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"Victor and I actually kicked around the idea this morning of 10 teams from CONMEBOL, 10 teams from CONCACAF and the four British teams that are now apparently looking for a place to play. It could be an interesting 24-team tournament to rival the Euro," he said before turning serious. "The idea of doing a special event that is every four years or every eight years or every 100 years, whatever it might be, that's something we can look at and talk about. That would be a situation that FIFA would need to put on the calendar for the non-CONMEBOL teams. Without that, it's almost impossible for us to do it. Obviously, the event has gone well. It's something that we should look at."

This year's Copa is the most significant soccer event in the U.S. since the 1994 World Cup, when the 52 matches set records with 3.59 million total attendance and a 68,991 average.

"Maybe in some markets lowering price would have led to more people; it would also have meant a huge effect on revenue in markets where you sold out, unless you've got variable pricing," Gulati said.

Attendance and TV viewership, according to Gulati, are evidence "the U.S. is really very much an immigrant community." Because of federal indictments of COMBEBOL and CONCACAF leaders, the event was not finalized until October.

U.S. games have ranged from 1.5 million to 3.3 million viewers on Fox Sports 1, but some Copa games had a small audience: 138,000 for Haiti-Peru, and 148,000 for Ecuador-Peru, both on Fox Sports 2, were the lows.

Univision's ratings for its Spanish-language telecasts have ranged from 5.6 million (Mexico-Jamaica, Mexico-Venezuela and Mexico-Chile) to 1.2 million (Panama-Bolivia). Argentina's 4-0 semifinal win over the U.S. on Tuesday was seen by 8.1 million viewers in the U.S.: 4.8 million viewers on Univision and 3.3 million on Fox Sports 1. Chile's rain-interrupted semifinal victory over Colombia on Wednesday averaged 971,000 viewers on Fox Sports 1 and 4 million on Univision.

Still, the audiences were well below World Cup levels. Germany's win over Argentina in the 2014 final was seen by 26.5 million people on U.S. television: 17.3 million on ABC and 9.2 million on Univision.

Last year's Copa America averaged 25,223, according to figures in match reports. The 2011 tournament in Argentina drew just under 34,000 and the 2007 edition in Venezuela about 40,000.

NOTES: Dominguez said CONMEBOL had proposed to the European governing body UEFA that the winner of Sunday's Argentina-Chile final meet the winner of the European Championship on July 10 in a one-game match in South America this year. He said UEFA has not yet replied.


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