When Mayor Mark Funkhouser, the Kansas Chiefs’ Clark Hunt and the Wizards soccer group joined earlier this month to make a bid as a FIFA World Cup soccer venue, they had the goal of kicking the city into the heights of international soccer.
They’d be right, say fans who follow what everyone else outside of the U.S. calls football.
“It would be great,” said Bob Johnson, an Ottawa, Kan., soccer fan who can nearly name the records of all the fabled soccer teams in the high-octane European football leagues. “It would help the status of soccer in the U.S.
“… It’s going to be major.”
Although most Americans pay little to the sport, in most parts of the globe, being a World Cup city equals being a world-class city, he said.
“The World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world,” Johnson said. “American don’t realize it but the World Cup is three to four times bigger than the Olympics.”
In announcing Kansas City’s bid, Funkhouser said the city could realize $300 million to $500 million in economic impact and generate 5,000 to 8,000 jobs over the month-long period the World Cup is held in the city.
That’s a realistic figure, Johnson said.
When the World Cup was held in the U.S. in 1994, a World Cup qualifier was held in Kansas City. Thousands attended, he said.
“I think that remained the attendance record for soccer at least until David Beckham came here,” he said.
Like the Olympics, the World Cup is played once every four years. South Africa will host the World Cup next year and Brazil in 2014.
Two hundred and three countries compete over three years for the 32 places in the World Cup. Ironically, although not considered a soccer power, the U.S. has had the only team that’s qualified for the World Cup six straight times.
U.S. soccer officials plant to submit a bid to host the event in either 2018 or 2022 and many say the bid will be successful.
Twenty-eight American cities have submitted bids to be host cities. Eighteen will be selected.
Funkhouser said he’s “absolutely confident” that Kansas City will be one of the 18 cities.
Johnson would agree.
“Kansas City is a soccer hot spot,” he said. Kansas City had one of the original teams in the old North American Soccer League and the Wizards pro soccer team remains a strong draw.
“And Kansas City is at the American center,“ he said. “We’re right in the center of the nation. We’re absolutely positioned for this.”
And if Kansas City is really successful with its World Cup matches, it might also become a venue for later rounds in the competition, he said.
There were hopes that when the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994, it would jump-start soccer as one of the major sports. It gave the sport more visibility but still remained an oddity.
Johnson hopes another successful World Cup bid will put soccer over the top.
“Maybe we can have our own Premier League,” he said, referring to the top-rank world-class football leagues as the top British league and teams such as Manchester United and Real Madrid. Many Americans already play at the world-class level, he said.
Now there are “soccer moms” who are encouraging their children to play the sport and many high school and college team are drawing more attention and more top athletes, he said.
Not to mention raising Kansas City’s profile, he said.
“Just think, all those people coming to the city from all over the world, and getting a chance to check out all the cool things that make the city what it is.”