Secondary market giant StubHub reports Seattle sales as of Friday ranked ninth among the 10 regions staging games.
Inside sports business
Take your eye off the bouncing soccer ball and it’s easy to miss that one of the world’s most followed sporting events arrives here next weekend.
Anyone from the part of the Western hemisphere where water mostly circles the drain clockwise instead of counterclockwise knows what I’m talking about. Some early Copa America soccer tournament games scheduled for Century Link Field will have edgy fans in South American nations pacing their pueblos, haciendas and favelas.
This is the 100th anniversary of South America’s biggest soccer event and the United States is its first host from outside that continent. If staging one continent’s premier soccer event in another sounds strange, take note that Copa America typically invites six non-South American countries to compete and tournament scheduling historically has been as chaotic as the politics in its member nations.
Copa America facts
South American teams: 10 (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela, Paraguay)
Non-South American teams: 6 (United States, Mexico, Panama, Jamaica, Haiti, Costa Rica)
U.S. host cities: 10
Dates: June 3-26
Seattle games: (Century Link Field) Haiti vs. Peru on June 4; Bolivia vs. Argentina on June 14; quarterfinals on June 16
Final: June 26 at East Rutherford, NJ
Most Copa America wins: Uruguay (15), Argentina (14), Brazil (8)
First tourmanent champion: Uruguay defeated Argentina in Buenos Aires in 1916
Most recent champion: Chile defeated Argentina in Santiago, Chile in 2015
Copa America used to happen every two years, but has bounced around lately. There was a four-year gap between the 2011 tournament and the one hastily re-scheduled in Chile last summer after initial host Brazil bowed out – finding it too difficult to squeeze Copa America between the 2014 FIFA World Cup and this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Copa America Centenario
Now, just one year after Chile won last year’s tournament, we’ve got Copa America Centenario USA 2016, being played on a brand new continent in 10 different U.S. cities.
But selling a 23-day tournament few casual U.S. sports fans know about was always going to prove challenging and that’s been the reality here in Seattle.
We’ll stage two opening round matchups – the first next Saturday – followed by a quarterfinals game in a couple of weeks. Copa America’s Seattle spokesperson, Ken Mendoca, says the tournament’s policy is not to release advance sales numbers, but thousands of seats to the Seattle games remain for sale on the tournament’s official Ticketmaster site.
Secondary market giant StubHub also reports Seattle sales as of Friday ranked ninth among the 10 regions staging games.
Those slow sales – second worst behind Orlando — are likely attributable to tough competition locally that’s limited pre-tournament hype. The Mariners have been in first place, the Seahawks have staged spring workouts and the Huskies just named a new athletic director.
But StubHub spokesperson Cameron Papp says the Seattle sales “mainly have to do with the matchups.’’
It’s tough to ignore how badly the draw of games went for us. Peru plays a Haiti squad ranked just 71st in the world next Saturday, while a higher-profile Argentina-Bolivia contest on June 14 might come too late to have any second-round implications.
Tickets to the Peru-Haiti game were selling as low as $6 on StubHub.
Mendoca said organizers have high hopes for the Argentina match, featuring the world’s No. 1-ranked team and “one of the game’s true global stars” in Lionel Messi. But Messi suffered bruises to his lower back and rib cage during a tune-up match Saturday against Honduras and his Copa America status remains uncertain.
Even before Messi’s injury, there’d been concern he might be rested in Seattle if Argentina wins its first two matchups to guarantee advancing to the quarterfinals. StubHub spokesperson Papp agrees the prospect of Messi not playing might have slowed sales, but expects they’ll pick up.
“It’s such a unique event,’’ he said. “We see good demand for just friendlies when it’s a team like Argentina. So, I guess star power might drive higher demand, but just the fact you get to see Argentina play, I’d assume it’s going to do pretty well.’’
That’s supported somewhat by our city’s history of staging international games between “neutral” teams.
We saw mid-sized crowds of 28,000-plus for 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup matchups at Century Link between soccer countries of varying stature. But we also had 47,052 see No. 2-world-ranked Brazil defeat Canada, 3-2, in a 2008 “friendly” in which most fans cheered for the South American side.
There’s a chance we’ll see the U.S. side in the June 16 quarterfinal, though it drew three formidable opening round opponents in Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay. So far, the U.S. games at Santa Clara, Calif., Chicago and Philadelphia have sold big.
StubHub last week unveiled new 3-D technology on its website for the Seattle games. It was launched for San Francisco Giants baseball games last month, but we’re the first Copa America locale where StubHub buyers can see a 3-D map showing what the views from Century Link seats will actually look like.
Papp says it’s too early to tell whether the new feature has positively impacted ticket sales.
There’s no denying the caliber of soccer to be played here is among the planet’s most entertaining. South America has long been regarded not only for talent – claiming nine of 20 World Cup competitions to-date – but for an open, free-flowing, aggressive style of play.
South American fans are also among the most colorful. Tournament spokesperson Mendoca notes some Argentina fans from Tierra del Fuego will have travelled more than 7,600 miles to be here, a personal sacrifice that raises the on-field stakes for those with a direct rooting interest.
That sideshow alone could make this a must-see for local sports fans.
And unless our own national team shows an early ability to compete with the tournament’s best, the biggest bang for our local soccer buck may indeed come from appreciating the skills and passions of others.