The international soccer federation will be the only winner when its new 48-team tournament begins.
By Juan Betancourt
Senior Staff Writer
FIFA caused controversy with the recent announcement of an expansion of its international soccer tournament, the FIFA World Cup. The new tournament format will increase the number of competing teams from 32 to 48 in the 2026 edition of the competition.
FIFA’s governing council unanimously voted to expand the format during its council meeting Jan. 9-10, according to The New York Times.
The World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world and has been held every four years since 1930, according to fifa.com.
This is not the first time FIFA has expanded the tournament. In 1982, the number of teams in the tournament increased from 16 to 24, according to nytimes.com. In 1998, additional teams were added, resulting in the current 32-team contest.
Additional teams come with benefits and drawbacks. With more teams involved, the viewership numbers are likely to increase.
More than 3.2 billion fans watched the FIFA 2014 World Cup Brazil 32-day competition, according to fifa.com. The final alone, in which Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 to be crowned world champions, was viewed by more than 1 billion people.
FIFA documents show an increase in viewership since 1998.
Tourists are likely to spend money while visiting the tournament’s host country.
The average amount a tourist spends is at least $2,500, according to cnbc.com.
Viewership and tourist revenue will increase, but competition will likely decrease.
During the World Cup qualifying tournaments, teams from across the world compete in regional tournaments to try to earn a spot. The purpose of the qualifiers is to bring out the world’s best teams from each group and balance the competition.
“If you keep a number like 32, you have more competition,” Giovanni Flores, Brookhaven College’s soccer team student assistant, said.
The 48 teams will be split into 16 groups of three, with the top two teams of each group advancing to the first stage of single elimination rounds.
In the current format, the 32 teams that qualify for the World Cup are considered the top-ranked teams.
FIFA rankings are based on national team performances. Argentina is currently ranked No. 1, while Tonga is in last place at No. 205, according to fifa.com.
The 32 teams are split into eight groups of four, and the top two teams from each group advance to the round of 16 elimination stages.
The 48-team format seems like it will still be the top 32 ranked teams competing in the knockout rounds. So the change, to me, isn’t really a change at all.
Adding more teams will allow lower-tier teams to qualify, but they won’t offer any competition against higher ranked teams.
Why add 16 lower-tier teams to a tournament in which they are likely to be eliminated in the group stage?
“There will probably be a lot of unseen games,” Flores said.
Even if viewership numbers are expected to increase, some games will probably not be viewed because of the lack of interest in the matches.
But the biggest reason the format is a bad idea is because FIFA officials are just in it for their own pockets and will likely avoid the social issues.
FIFA made $4.8 billion in revenue during the 2014 World Cup. That was great for the federation, but the host country suffered.
Brazil, not FIFA, spent approximately $3.6 billion renovating and building new stadiums, according to businessinsider.com.
Stadiums such as the Estádio Nacional de Brasília Mané Garrincha, the most expensive stadium Brazil renovated, at $900 million, is now being used as a bus parking lot, according to Popular Mechanics.
Countries bidding for a chance to host the World Cup must present 16-18 soccer venues, 12 of which are selected for the games, according to FIFA bidding documents.
FIFA has yet to decide which country will host the 2026 games, but the U.S. is a favorite for the bid, according to theguardian.com.
FIFA estimates the 48-team tournament will bring in $6.5 billion in revenue, including an additional $1 billion in television, sponsorship and ticketing revenue in the first cycle alone.