Centenario edition is most successful Copa America in history

With two games still to play, the Copa America Centenario is already the most successful edition of the world’s oldest international soccer tournament, having smashed records for attendance, television viewership, digital and social media engagement and revenue.

“It is beyond, certainly, all of our expectations,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, chairman of the tournament’s local organizing committee, said Thursday. “It’s been a tremendous success on all fronts.”

The 32-game, 10-city tournament, the first Copa America to be played in the U.S., ends with the U.S. playing Colombia in the third-place game Saturday in the Phoenix area before Chile and Argentina meet in Sunday’s final in East Rutherford, N.J. A sold-out crowd of more than 81,000 is expected for the championship game, which would push total attendance to 1.49 million, breaking the previous tournament high by more than 350,000.


Argentina's Lionel Messi waves to the crowd after his team defeated the United States, 4-0, in a Copa America semifinal match.
Argentina’s Lionel Messi waves to the crowd after his team defeated the United States, 4-0, in a Copa America semifinal match.
(Bob Levey / Getty Images )

Despite ticket prices that averaged more than $100, the Centenario will draw more than 46,000 a game, the highest in Copa America history. Television ratings are also way up with Univision’s audience for the group stage topping what it drew during the last World Cup. And FS1’s viewership of 3.29 million for last Tuesday’s U.S.-Argentina game made it the most-watched soccer game in the cable channel’s history.

Whether that’s enough to make the U.S. the permanent home of a combined North-South American soccer championship remains to be seen; that would require a formal agreement between CONMEBOL, the federation that oversees soccer in South America, and CONCACAF, the governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean.

“No conversations have taken place yet,” Gulati said, “[but] clearly the success of this event gives people a lot to talk about.”

Although U.S. Soccer hasn’t publicly committed to making a bid for the 2026 World Cup, Gulati has been clear about his desire to bring the event back to the U.S. The success of the Copa America Centenario will make that easier.

“The U.S. has the infrastructure, has the management capacity, has the consumer base – all of the things you need to put on a terrific event,” Gulati said. “We’ve shown that at the World Cup.”

The 1994 World Cup remains the most successful and best-attended in history, drawing an average of 68,991 fans to its 52 matches. The Centenario will fall well short of that figure but the average attendance at its 32 matches will top five of the last nine World Cups (excluding 1994), the last six European Championships and the Los Angeles and Atlanta Olympic Games.

Yet the Copa tournament almost never happened. When the Justice Department’s investigation into corruption at the highest levels of global soccer found more than a dozen men involved in the planning of the Centenario had taken more than $110 million in illegal kickbacks, U.S. Soccer walked away from the event.

It took six months to raze the tournament’s criminally constructed foundation to win back Gulati’s trust.

That left just six months to organize and promote the tournament, yet stadium signage and other on-site advertising sold out and 15 major corporate sponsors signed on, guaranteeing the event will turn an undisclosed profit.

“It’s great evidence that the United States has become a passionate soccer country. We’re there in so many ways,” Gulati said.