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U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati and USA Bid Committee Executive Director David Downs Discuss Potential Venues for the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup Bid


U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati Opening Comments:
“Good afternoon, it’s been a terrific few weeks for the sport in the United States. Even before I get to the World Cup, let me talk about that in the next few seconds. In the last two weeks, our Men’s National Team has earned an away tie and a home win in Nashville and is sitting in first place in our group to qualify for our sixth consecutive World Cup, which will be in South Africa next summer. We’re on our way there. In the last few weeks, MLS has started another season, a link that started with the 1994 World Cup. There was a terrific start in Seattle with a team that’s unbeaten in an expansion market that’s averaging over 30,000 attendance for its first couple of games. In the last 10 days, we’ve started a women’s professional soccer leage, WPS, which has started terrifically in LA with a great star and a great game. Hopefully that will continue in the future.

“We think all of those things are extremely positive for the sport. More specifically, on our World Cup bid efforts in the last few weeks, we’ve announced that Dr. Henry Kissinger has joined our board. Dr. Kissinger was on our 1994 board and is a great link and a great statesman, and we think that’s a big plus for us as we continue to move forward in this process. We’ve made some decisions about where we’re going to have our offices. Those will be shared space with Major League Soccer and I want to thank Don Garber and MLS for making space available on the seventh floor of their New York address. We’ve added some additional staff people. David Downs, who is part of our effort for the last three months, has added John Kristick, a former executive in a number of companies in Europe, with World Cup experience, with sports marketing experience and a background in the game, and Jurgen Mainka, who some of you will no doubt know from his days at MLS, most recently with Octagon, and a couple other staff members who have joined us and will start in the next few weeks.

“Of course, what we’re talking about today is a letter we sent out last week to 70 venues across the country and municipalities, in some cases more than one municipality for a particular stadium, in other cases we’ve put multiple stadiums in the same municipality. Really, a different level of understanding exists in those different cities and stadiums and what we’ve done in the introductory letter is tell them a little bit about the World Cup and tell them a little bit about the process and introduce the organizing committee, specifically David [Downs]. We’ll tell them a lot more in the weeks to come, but in this early stage we’ve asked them to indicate their basic level of interest in the next couple of weeks in hosting the World Cup, hosting events in 2018 or 2022. Once we get responses from them, that process will continue and we look forward to having a great dialogue with a number of venues as we put our bid together, aiming for a target date of May 2010 when FIFA expects these bids to be in Zurich.”

On the number of stadiums FIFA would prefer in a bid for the upcoming FIFA World Cups:
Sunil Gulati: “The model has been just around double digits so, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12. We think that’s probably their thinking at this point, but we don’t want to be closed to potentially considering a few others. The range, I think, people are talking about is closer to 12 that would be finally used. I think in a country like the United States that could possibly be a little bit more. That would ultimately be FIFA’s call. The number of candidate cities that we would put forward to FIFA would be greater than that. There would be a continuing process in conjunction with them.

“We will no doubt end up considering venues and stadiums that don’t exist today, not in the same way that some of the other countries bidding are, because they’re talking about building venues for the World Cup, but given the turnover between top NFL stadiums and top university stadiums that are being built between now and 2018 or 2022, we think that’s eminently possible. From my perspective, the more venues we’re in, the better chance we have of spreading the gospel of the sport. The other side of that is that the costs increase dramatically when you increase the number of venues and the complications increase, whether it’s communications, transportation, logistics, as you increase the number of venues.”

On whether he anticipates the venues to be finalized four or five years prior to the tournament:
Gulati: “I think in this case it would be more than that since the decision is being made so far out about hosting. Normally FIFA makes a decision six years out. In this case, it’s obviously going to be eight and 12 years out, so it may well be that we’re in a position to finalize the venues a little bit further out, but it could be as late as that in some cases. If you have a stadium going up in an important market that’s going to be done in time, you certainly wouldn’t want to rule that out. I think that’s probably a fair timetable.”

On whether he has had recent discussions with the Meadowlands and what was discussed in prior talks:
Gulati: “We haven’t had any subsequent discussions with the Meadowlands and are being careful about having discussions on an individual basis in the next few weeks until we get a preliminary notice of interest back from people. Obviously the New York/New Jersey area is a great market in the United States. It was central to the World Cup in 1994 at Giants Stadium, so it is something that would be a very important part of a bid. The new stadium is going to be a phenomenal stadium. Frankly, the old stadium is a terrific stadium, so the new one will only be that much better.”

On the Yale Bowl’s chances of being selected:
Gulati:
“We haven’t had any discussions at all with New Haven. We’ve played a number of international games there, not in the last couple or three years, but prior to that, it was part of our bid package for the 1994 World Cup and if the university (Yale) and the city are so inclined, we would certainly consider them again.”

On whether Los Angeles would have to build a new stadium to be considered for selection, considering the number of new stadiums likely to be built before 2018 or 2022:
Gulati: “I think it’s an impossible question to answer, at this point, given the amount of time that exists and the uncertainty about what new venues will be built between now and then. Certainly, some of the stadiums that exist today are going to be hosting games in 2018 or 2022 if we’re successful in our bid efforts. Certainly, Los Angeles, which was the centerpiece of both the men’s and women’s World Cups, in terms of most games and the finals of ’94 and ’99, is an important market for us. I would be surprised if there weren’t a stadium development or redesign planned between now and the World Cup in Los Angeles. Whether that’s a renovated facility in the two that exist, modified facility, or new venue, I would be very surprised if between the NFL, the city, the state authorities in and around Los Angeles, private and public, there weren’t a better alternative than exists today.”

On whether MLS stadiums would be used as training venues should the bid be successful:
Gulati: “That’s quite possible. The training facility setup is an important one for FIFA. We have a luxury, in that respect, of college campuses, professional teams in MLS, the USL and WPS, so I think it’s quite possible that we could have that. When we started in ’94, prior to that World Cup, teams weren’t allowed to play friendly matches in markets in the country just before the World Cup. We asked FIFA for permission and said it wouldn’t adversely affect the World Cup. We proved to be right in that case. We had a game, with U.S.-Mexico, at the Rose Bowl. We had a game with Greece and Colombia, if I remember correctly, at Giants Stadium that were 60,000-plus in both cases. It’s possible that markets that aren’t in the World Cup, whether it’s MLS stadiums or friendly games before the World Cup that don’t meet the size standards for number of seats, could be used. So, I think the answer is, yes. MLS venues could certainly be part of that mix and some MLS venues are in NFL stadiums that are stadiums large enough, obviously in Seattle and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, both would be in that category.”

On how realistic would it be to hold a World Cup game at Lambeau Field in a smaller market like Milwaukee:
Gulati: “I think we did some things in 1994 that surprised people around the world. We found a way to grow grass indoors in Detroit. We played in some markets that might not have been at the top of the list for our original thinking. Green Bay, the team, the stadium and the field are legendary. They’re part of American sports history. Obviously, football history. It’s not out of the mix. It’s something that we would obviously consider. There are going to be any number of venues that will be in the mix, but only if they can make certain modifications in terms of, not in terms of number of seats, but in terms of playing field. We’ve looked at Lambeau in the past for a national team game. In some cases it doesn’t make sense to make adjustments when you’re talking about one game, and it’s an exhibition or even a World Cup qualifying game. But for an event like the World Cup, with sufficient time to plan, with the economic impact that it brings, with the international visitors that it brings, I think there’s a number of venues that we haven’t played at, where modifications are necessary that venues and municipalities will look to make those modifications to be considered.”

On venues in the Midwest and having a national footprint for the World Cup:
Gulati: “We would definitely want to have a national footprint for the World Cup. Last World Cup we did have some East Coast venues, Detroit and Soldier Field were both in the mix, we were in Dallas and, then, a West Coast presence. That makes the group play a little bit easier because you don’t have teams necessarily traveling across the country twice. So, FIFA, for a number of reasons, one because games can start at the same time if they want, two, especially in the last round of the tournament, we have some time zone issues, also travel issues. So there are some pluses to geographically being able to cluster venues, especially for the teams that are participating.”

David Downs: “If we look back a the 2006 World Cup, you’ll note that while Germany clearly had Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt, they also had had Kaiserslautern as a site, and we’re evaluating this as what kind of legacy this event leaves behind, both to the sport in the United States and the impressions of the world. I think all forms of American life should be considered, not just major markets.”

On the general thinking about playing indoors in a dome versus playing outdoors in an open-air stadium:
Gulati: “My first question would be, ‘What time of the year?’ In realistic terms, we’ve done both. Our first time was at the World Cup, when we hosted games at Detroit. As of now, FIFA has a rule in place about the finals of World Cup competitions, which is that they’re played on natural grass. They’ve changed that for their youth competitions as well as for their qualifying games. It has to be grass as of today, but we’ve done that. We’ve played on grass in the dome and in domes that open up it’s different than in domes that are completely closed. So there is no particular preference. I think in the case of the United States when we’re talking about summer months, less so the case when we’re talking about the Twin Cities, playing in some of our southern markets, where there is a dome and the ability to open or close that dome depending on weather conditions is a huge advantage. I’m certainly not going to try to pick between those two terrific stadiums you have, or say indoor our outdoor. FIFA so far has been open to both. They had it in Japan, they had it in the United States where we’ve played both indoors and outdoors.”

On whether he likes the idea of going to a market like the Twin Cities:
Gulati: “There are different tracks of showing levels of soccer interest across the country. Obviously having a professional team there is an important, but there is also all the youth participation and the adult participation and following the sport across the country, not just in the MLS markets, but the WPS markets and even the USL markets. Seattle is a great example of having the tradition of the sport in the North American Soccer League, had a USL team for many years and now has an MLS team and has done it at all those levels as well as having a terrific state organization at the youth level and adult level. I think we’re going to see a passion for the game in different ways, not only teams that may or may not be able to support MLS teams, which are playing 16 or 18 home games a year, but for a special event like this would turn out, and we think certainly Minneapolis falls into that category.”

On the advantages and disadvantages of college stadiums compared to professional stadiums:
Gulati: “Nine to 12 is a number that, as I mentioned, we would probably shoot for. I can’t predict on the number of college venues. The advantage that several NFL venues have would be the municipal area. That’s not always true of universities for fairly obvious reasons. On the other hand, the university environment and what it brings to the bid and the diversity of places we could be playing, I think is fantastic. In general terms, NFL venues are going to have greater level of amenities.”

On what is attractive about Texas hosting matches:
Gulati: “We’ve played there in the past. There’s a big new stadium going up in Dallas, a couple of MLS teams, one of our biggest youth markets. All of those things, I think, are very attractive for us.”

On the extent that a playing surface currently at a stadium affects chances for selection:
Gulati: “At one level, it doesn’t matter, because we’ve shown that we can put grass down an outdoor arena without any problems whatsoever, so you’ll have stadiums that will be used for events this year that are artificial surface but grass is put down on top of that in preparation for a friendly match. So, it doesn’t really matter in the short term. Is there a possibility that we would actually play on an artificial surface? The answer today would be no, under FIFA’s rules. In 12 years, I can’t predict that. The last, which would be an indoor arena where you have an artificial surface, would we be able to put grass there? The answer to that question got answered pretty strongly in Detroit in 1994 and Saporo in Japan and a number of other places in between. The answer is, yes. The permanent surface that’s in a venue now is not particularly a factor in whether we can play there or not.”

On whether the bid would include a potential new stadium in Alabama instead of Legion Field:
Gulati: “That’s something that we would really discuss over time and that’s why we’ve sent letters and reached out, not only to venues and facilities, but also to municipalities. In this case, we would have sent the letter to the mayor and be prepared to deal with either of those two situations. Atlanta is another good example, where there is some discussion that down the road there will be a new stadium that’s in the work. Los Angeles might be in the same situation, so we’d be very flexible between now and when we’d have to make final decisions on which of the venues would actually host games on deciding on a specific stadium in a municipality.”

On the factors that go into picking a location for the final and whether Soldier Field would be considered:
Gulati: “Chicago is a terrific city. It’s hosted World Cup games, it’s hosted Gold Cup games, it’s hosted the national team. New Soldier Field is a terrific venue. We’ve enjoyed playing there, even when we lost a game against Brazil, we had terrific attendance. There could be any number of factors. The economic impact would be important for cities, but for our purposes, the venue itself, the stadium itself, the number of seats, transportation, accommodations, all of those sorts of things, which for most American cities, most metropolitan areas are very easy to fulfill what the requirements are going to be, it’s the willingness to do it. So it really comes down in many cases to the stadium itself. In the case of Chicago, you’ve got a terrific stadium. For the final itself, size is really important because you want to open it up to as many people as you can. I give Alan Rothenberg a terrific amount of credit. When he got elected president [of U.S. Soccer] and took over the World Cup, he immediately thought bigger than we had originally thought, going in, where some of the stadiums that would be used would be smaller in the first round, and in particular we had been thinking of Washington as a final. Alan quickly did the math and realized that the Rose Bowl had 100,000 seats and the difference in economics and the number of people that could attend games in a six or seven game swing was enormous. So especially for the latter part of the competition, the number of seats available and the amenities for hospitality, all those things are very important, like they would be for a Super Bowl.”

Downs: “Let me just add that the FIFA requirements for the final is an 80,000-seat capacity stadium and I don’t believe Soldier Field, at this point, qualifies.”

On the parameters for a stadium’s capacity in order to be selected:
Gulati: “FIFA has laid out minimums that they expect from us, which is 40,000 seats minimum for games in the first round and a venue size of 80,000 for opening and closing. So, at an absolute minimum, that’s the only criteria we’re prepared to say today. Are there going to be other things that will matter? Of course. There are any number of things that will come into that, which I’ve mentioned, whether it’s reasonably located train facilities, reasonably located hotels, logistics in terms of transportation, parking, all of those things. Most of the venues that we’re talking about, especially the venues in metropolitan areas, have those sorts of facilities and logistics available to us so they’re going to meet the criteria. That’s not necessarily the case in a number of other countries bidding, where they’re talking about building a stadium, for example, or facilities around a stadium. In our case, when we’re in metropolitan areas, most of those logistics are already taken care of. And when we’re not in metropolitan areas, there’s been a way to accommodate. At a typical college game that may not be in a large metropolitan area, they’ve figured out how to house people, how to accommodate people, how to move people back and forth and so on. So, I’m not prepared today to go any deeper into it because I think the parameters, at least initially, are quite broad.”

On whether the reduction in capacity of Stanford Stadium reduces the stadium’s chances:
Gulati: “Everything else being equal, more seats is better. But, unfortunately, everything else is not always equal. So clearly, if we’re trying to get as many people to these games as we can and open it up as much as we can, having a bigger stadium is a plus. But when a stadium downsizes and adds amenities and adds elements that enhance the stadium, it’s not necessarily a negative. So if you’re taking out 20,000 seats, as an example, I’m not saying this is the case at Stanford, and adding additional parking or adding press facilities or adding luxury suites or expanding the size of the playing surface so it’s now big enough for a World Cup game, that would clearly enhance a stadium’s viability rather than reduce it.”

On the USA’s competitors for the bid:
Gulati: There are 11 different bids, with about half of those in Europe. The only constricting factor is that any confederation that hosts 2018 cannot host in 2022 and, because South Africa is hosting the 2010 World Cup and Brazil is hosting in 2014, that neither Africa nor South America is eligible to host in 2018.

On Invesco Field in Denver and proposed field dimensions at the stadiums:
Gulati: “I don’t know the exact playing dimensions of the field but having been there, it’s a terrific field and a terrific stadium.”

Downs: “In our initial list of 70 stadiums, we did not meet with each one to map out their proposed field dimensions. That will be part of phase two and yes, there are some FIFA guidelines in regards to the size of the pitch and the size of the area around the pitch to accommodate things like benches and warm-up areas.”

On whether they will consider 60,000 seat stadiums:
Gulati: “We do want to be in large markets, certainly. Not all of the new stadiums that are being built are 80,000 seats, in Seattle and at Soldier Field for example. Important venues for U.S. Soccer in hosting games like World Cup qualifiers, given the modernity, the architecture and even the historic nature, those markets are important for sure. Those stadiums that seat about 60 or 70,000, despite being some of our smaller venues are still much larger than most of the venues we play in around the world, even for World Cups. There were a number of terrific venues in Germany that were not 60,000 seats.”

On the projected demand for tickets:
Gulati: “We will not be able to meet the full demand for tickets. That demand for the World Cup in the United States in 1994 was extraordinary and it was beyond what FIFA and the international community expected. The attendance record that we set there on an absolute basis, as well as a per game basis, still exists even though there are more games played in World Cups now. So, the demand for the sport has increased dramatically over the past 15 years, but even then it was enormous. We will do everything we can to make many seats available if we’re successful in our bid, but like it is with any major event, demand often exceeds supply.”

On whether stadiums will be able to undergo construction to accommodate World Cup games:
Gulati: “In any situation where modifications are required, it’s going to be up to a local venue and to us whether it makes sense to do that. Some will say yes, it does make sense and others will decide that it doesn’t, in the same way it’s happened in the past. All of the other countries bidding will be talking about building new stadiums. We’re actually blessed to be in a country that has the facilities available to us for a bid that would require less modification than any other country in the world. It’s going to be up to an individual municipality whether they think that having the equivalent of four, five or six Super Bowls come to their city or municipality is worth it.”
Downs: “In addition to the extraordinary economic impact of hosting games during a World Cup, the way it will change the impression of that market to the billions of viewers of the World Cup around the world is very significant, and I think it’s something that every market would take very seriously into consideration.”

On the potential for older stadiums to host:
Gulati: “In 1994 and 1999, the Rose Bowl was in a situation where it wasn’t as modern as some of the other cities so I don’t think we can put a specific age limit on stadiums at this stage. I think we do want to be open as long as we can to the possibility of new venues and whether some of that is helped with the possibility of the World Cup, that would be great if it was. Certainly that will be the case for other countries, but we’re not expecting people to build a several million dollar stadium for seven World Cup games because it doesn’t make economic sense in the long term and we wouldn’t encourage that. If this helps with the development and timing of a new venue, then that’s terrific.”

On whether the current financial situation that the U.S. will affect amenities in 2018 or 2022:
Gulati: “I’m quite sure that the economic situation that we have right now is not going to last for that long of a period. I’m not going to try to pretend I know what the timetable is, but we’re talking about an event that is a decade away. The second part of that is that we’re not asking, like some countries will be, for cities and states to spend millions or hundreds of millions of dollars on infrastructure for venues. Given the nature of the United States, we’re not going to have to build hotels, highways, communications centers, training fields or any of those sorts of things before a World Cup. Certainly some modifications will be needed in some venues in the next eight to nine years, but we are emphasizing venues that are going to exist, not ones that we’re going to ask the organizing committee to come up with public funds for. We completely agree with your sentiment that trying to ask for millions of dollars today to support a World Cup bid is not practically or politically sensible.”

On whether they will present all 70 venues to FIFA:
Gulati: “No other country would have that many because of the NFL and the university system and others in the United States. That said, the number of venues that we present to FIFA will not even be close to 70. We will submit a group that I’d say will be closer to 25-35.”

On whether the Atlanta stadiums with domes have an advantage due to the heat in the south:
Gulati: “In 1994, we did play in Dallas and Orlando without any domes and it was warm. It’s also warm in New York, Washington, Chicago and many American cities. Now there are more stadiums with retractable roofs and other stadiums that are purely outdoors. Then we have the situation that some domes are climate controlled and others that are not. A dome that is climate controlled does give us a different set of options from one that doesn’t have air conditioning or heating. Those are all pluses or minuses for any particular venue the same way that other amenities would be.”

On whether the cities themselves will factor into the selected venues along with the stadiums:
Gulati: “It’s a combination of those two factors. We sent letters in the last few days not only to stadium authorities but also to civic authorities and, in some cases, state level authorities. The market matters and the venue is absolutely critical. All of the other things we’ve mentioned today can be met in a number of different ways. It can be met with a single city or in a metropolitan area.”

On Lincoln Financial Field and the recent support of the National Teams in Philadelphia:
Gulati: “Philadelphia is a large, metropolitan market in every way. Eastern Pennsylvania, the state association, is one of our biggest and best. The games that we’ve had there have been very successful, whether it’s the Men’s National Team, the Women’s National Team or the club soccer that has been there. All of those are big positives for Philadelphia, which has a modern, world-class stadium.”

On Seattle as a venue:
Gulati: “The good news for Seattle is that the Sounders have been successful. They have had a terrific start, the best start out of the block for any team we have had in terms of attendance and on the field. What makes Seattle a great market is a long list that includes a great history of supporting the game, whether it’s our national teams, the Sounders, the NASL. It’s a world-class facility, it has civic support from the state level down and a terrific ownership group with the Sounders. We have an almost unparalleled set of factors that have made that team successful and made the city a hotbed for the game for many years.”

On stadiums that were not included on the list:
Downs: “We could have had 140 venues on our list instead of 70, and we didn’t think that was a manageable number. Having said that, we’ve indicated that if there are venues that we haven’t reached out to, we are more than willing to hear from them.”

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