American soccer fans are facing a dilemma this summer: too much soccer. And neither the fans nor the players are too happy about it.
The problem: At the exact moment when the U.S. women are defending their 2015 World Cup title in France, their male counterparts are launching a defense of their 2017 win in the regional Gold Cup tournament. The title games of the two tournaments are on the same day, July 7, a few hours apart.
Soccer officials have tried to sell this as a potentially historic day for U.S. soccer, if both national teams make it to their respective title matches. “It would be an incredible day of soccer,” said U.S. Soccer’s Senior Manager of Communications Neil Buethe.
But no one else is very happy about it. U.S. fans have had to choose between going to France to support the women’s team or staying home to support the men. And many—especially the players—believe the women’s World Cup simply deserves its own moment clear of competition.
“It’s ridiculous. And disappointing, to be honest,” said Megan Rapinoe, forward and captain of the USWNT.
The last time the two international tournaments coincided four years ago, they were played in subsequent summer months. This year, the action takes place simultaneously.
How did this year’s overlapping tournaments happen?
Scheduling for major championships begins and ends with FIFA, the governing body of international soccer. FIFA picked the dates for this summer’s tournaments over 18 months ago and announced the schedule for the Women’s World Cup in February 2018. Concacaf released the Gold Cup schedule about eight months later in October 2018.
Executives at U.S. Soccer and Fox, which owns the multimillion-dollar broadcasting rights to both of this summer’s tournaments, asked Concacaf to consider moving the men’s final, which also coincides with the South American regional Copa América championship game, to Saturday, according to a person familiar with the matter. Concacaf declined.
“The decision was taken after exhaustive consultation with key stakeholders and broadcasting rights partners,” said Concacaf in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. “Concacaf trusts that the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France and our Gold Cup, the games of which will be broadcast in different time slots, will complement each other well.”
Later, Concacaf president Victor Montagliani was more concise. “It was simply an error,” he told Sports Illustrated. “Ultimately [FIFA] are the masters of the calendar and maybe somebody fell asleep at the switch.”
The overlapping schedules has given U.S. soccer fans whiplash. Ray Noriega of American Outlaws, U.S. Soccer’s official support group, has traveled to every Summer Olympics and Women’s World Cup since 2011 to watch the USWNT. When he saw the schedule for this summer, he was incredulous.
“You couldn’t move it one day?” he said. Noriega found a way to attend the group stage of the Gold Cup and the knockout round of the Women’s World Cup, but fellow American Outlaws member Ryan Shirah of Phoenix had to make a choice.
“For me, what it boils down to is cost,” said Shirah, who is attending the U.S. men’s domestic group stage games and the Gold Cup final in Chicago.
U.S. forward Gyasi Zardes, left, celebrates with Christian Pulisic during the Gold Cup.
Getting across the Atlantic at the height of the busy European summer travel season isn’t cheap. According to data compiled for The Wall Street Journal by ARC, flights to Paris from the U.S. for the knockout round, which begins June 22, are up 17.6% from 2018 to $1,374.22. Airfare through Paris for the duration of the tournament is slightly cheaper at $1,363.20, but still is up 12.3% from last year. That’s to say nothing of the additional costs associated with traveling to and between the eight other host cities, either by plane, train or automobile.
Hotel prices vary widely among host cities, Kayak data show. The most expensive nightly rates are in Nice ($338) and Paris ($333)—popular tourist destinations in their own right. Rooms in Montpelier are lower than previous years, but fans attending U.S.A. vs. Sweden or other games in Le Havre are less lucky: nightly rates have nearly doubled from last year to $187.
It’s unclear if the option of staying home for the Gold Cup is dissuading U.S. soccer fans from traveling to France to support the defending champions. As of 30 days before the Women’s World Cup opener on June 7, U.S. fans had purchased 123,191 tickets. For the same time frame, Concacaf said it expected “to exceed half a million fans at the Gold Cup.”
The concurrent schedules of the North and South American regionals with the Women’s World Cup is a telling sign of the progress yet to be made, says Dan Wiersema, who runs communications and special projects for American Outlaws.
“This [the World Cup] is the pinnacle of sport, of soccer for women’s national teams around the world,” he said. “They should have their own day.”
Write to Laine Higgins at firstname.lastname@example.org