CONCACAF Watch: Gold Cup needs to branch out to new countries

The tournament is lucrative for the region's governing body when it's in the U.S., but it's time to give another country a chance to host the continental championship.

The CONCACAF Gold Cup will be contested for the 14th time in 2017, and for the 14th time the United States will play host to the region's championship.

This is no surprise. Though new CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani has said the confederation would consider new sites for the tournament, the showpiece CONCACAF event involving the region's top international teams, the Gold Cup has a long history of being in the U.S. There have been 271 Gold Cup matches played since the tournament started in 1991. Just 14 games have been played outside the U.S. - two group matches in Canada in 2015, three group matches in Mexico City in 2003 and nine games at the Estadio Azteca in 1993.

CONCACAF announces 14 venues for 2017 Gold Cup

CONCACAF has good reason for keeping the tournament in the U.S. First of all, there's an immense record of success. InsideWorldFootball reported that CONCACAF made more than $66 million from the 2015 edition of the tournament. Even if you don't trust the accounts, it doesn't take an economist to note the stadiums - often NFL venues with enormous capacities - full of ticket-buying fans, not to mention the broadcast deals with partners like Fox and Univision. 

That the Gold Cup takes place every two years is not as much of a cash grab as it is the big-time festival a civic organization has annually that pays the budget for the year. The revenue from the Gold Cup lets CONCACAF put money into other ventures - though it seems that too often those were personal in nature for many years rather than development-related. The new regime is under closer watch, and perhaps will funnel funds to the proper places.

Yet, it's still time to get the Gold Cup out of the U.S. and into - well, anywhere else. CONCACAF needs to put raising the quality of the game ahead of its bottom line, and it faces many decisions of this nature in the near future. Clearly the Gold Cup in the U.S. is a lucrative endeavor. But there shouldn't be a built-in advantage for the U.S. (and, let's be honest, Mexico) every single time a continental championship takes place.

Every other confederation rotates its championship. CONMEBOL does it based on alphabetical order (though there's been some swapping). Would it have made more money hosting it in Brazil instead of Venezuela in 2007 or had fewer headaches putting it in Argentina in 2001 instead of sticking with Colombia? Yes. But the championship rotates. UEFA is less regimented, going through a traditional bidding process, but having Germany host each time wouldn't fly. The Asian Cup and African Cup of Nations also work on bidding rotations, resulting in an array of host nations.

Having the tournament in different sites can boost enthusiasm for international soccer in the host country and bring more fans into the stadium to see the most significant matches that many of their teams play. There also have been discussions about adding more teams to the tournament, something that could give more games to countries that currently struggle to fill the fixture list, especially those in the Caribbean.

It's just not right. Supporters of the tournament staying in the U.S. will, I'm guessing, mostly be fans in the U.S. who like being able to go every two years. Imagine the frustration were you a fan in any other country in the region, forced to either make an international journey or watch at home every other year since 1991.

Who benefited from Liga MX layoff?

While it's tough to turn down the cash an American-hosted tournament can bring in, there's little evidence that having a nation like Montagliani's home country of Canada host the tournament would result in a that big of an economic hit. TV rights holders still want to transmit the games, and 2015's Women's World Cup showed that not only does Canada have plenty of fan support it also used three venues with a capacity greater than 50,000. We can talk about playing surfaces, but the turf in those facilities surely is less dangerous than some of the thinly laid sod put over the NFL fields that suffices during Gold Cups.

Mexico too has plenty of top facilities. Monterrey, Chivas, Santos Laguna and Tijuana are among those that have opened or remodeled stadiums recently, with the Azteca undergoing a face-lift this year. Queretaro, Puebla and Leon also could host matches without difficulty. 

From there, the confederation might have to get creative. A pan-American bid (as we discussed two years ago) would be fun, though difficult logistically. A joint Panama-Costa Rica tournament seems possible, keeping the seeded and host teams in one country until the final stages, similar to how the 1993 Gold Cup worked out.

The point is that there are options. In 2017, it will once again be the U.S. hosting the Gold Cup, and odds are the event once again will be a financial success. Maybe 15th time is a charm, and the rest of the region will get a little love in two years. It would be a positive move for a confederation out to prove it really is for all and not just some of its members.

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