With the first round of matches complete in the Copa America, rumors of a potential attendance issue have begun to circulate. With each team having played once, we are able to take a look at just how each stadium has fared so far. So far the numbers seem underwhelming.
Of the 10 announced stadiums, only six have hosted games so far. Of those six, only two have had matches that even came close to reaching attendance capacity. Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA has sold 99.9% capacity through its first two matches, though those matches are two of the most highly anticipated games within the Group Stage of the tournament: Argentina vs Chile, a rematch of last year's Copa America final; and USA vs Colombia, the host nation and tournament opener.
The third match to reach near capacity was Mexico vs Uruguay, held at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ. This game prompted harsh remarks from Uruguay's Football Association president Wilmer Valdez who said it was a mistake to have the United States host the Copa America, and said the whole thing was designed to give Mexico an advantage. The CONMEBOL and FIFA executive member outlined several grievances which includes the national anthem mixup which saw the Chilean National Anthem played during Uruguay's introduction.
Part of the mistake, in Valdez's esteem, was that the United States does not have enough football culture in its blood to honor the heritage of this tournament, and through the first few matches, the attendance figures back up that claim. The other five matches only saw the stadiums at an average of 37.7% capacity. There may be myriad reasons behind this, whether the original pricing for tickets turned away initial interest, having the stadium selection process occur before the group draw, a heat wave that swept through the country, to even boring or uninteresting matchups.
Though it is important to note how the attendance to this year's centennial Copa America matches up with previous incarnation. Last year saw the Copa America hosted in Chile, with nine different stadiums in use. Over the course of 26 games, a total attendance of 655,902 was reached. Through the first round in the United States, attendance is nearly half of that total, at 326,544. So whatever organizational issues have presented itself, or how unattractive half-empty stadiums look on TV, CONMEBOL officials must be overjoyed at the potential of huge attendance figures, especially considering that this year's iteration of the tournament will have six more matches played. If the average attendance through the first round continues throughout the tournament or even improves, the overall total attendance might double last year's tournament.
It's also worth noting that ticket prices -- while possibly turning away large swaths of potential fans -- have also helped boost revenue significantly. Even if the stadiums are half full, the tickets are being sold for about five times what they were being sold for in South America, meaning revenues are surely way up.
Give that, it's hardly a shock to hear rumors that CONMEBOL and CONCACAF are looking at ways to make this tournament a more regular feature.
As Copa America progresses, it will be interesting to watch how the attendance figures adjust and how the organizers react. And if the rumors of the United States being a permanent host for this tournament prove true, then clearly the dissenting voices are being drowned out by the money brought in by the sheer numbers of attendees, even if mistakes are being made and sell-outs are few and far between