When Italy crashed out of World Cup qualifying on Monday, thousands of uncreative people (myself included) posted the same really dumb joke on social media: With all the big countries that missed out on the World Cup, someone should start a World Cup NIT! Let’s get all of the countries that didn’t make the World Cup to play each other!
It is indeed surprising that all of Italy, the United States, Netherlands, Chile, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast all failed to qualify for the World Cup. There are some other decent teams that could fill out the World Cup NIT too. Ecuador, Paraguay, Ireland, Wales, Greece, and the losers of the Australia vs. Honduras and New Zealand vs. Peru playoffs are all decent squads that would have been competitive at the real World Cup.
But no one would actually do this... right? We’re all joking? Right? RIGHT?
U.S. Soccer and Soccer United Marketing are, indeed, looking into "possibility" of bringing non-World Cup sides such as Italy, Netherlands, Ghana, Chile to U.S. next summer for tournament or series of matches. Probably a longshot but worth a try.— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) November 14, 2017
If you’re unfamiliar with Soccer United Marketing, it’s a sports marketing company jointly owned by U.S. Soccer and MLS. They handle the marketing and TV rights for lots of international friendlies in the United States, and they made a ton of money on the 2016 Copa America. MLS owners make a lot of money off it, which is how the league is able to keep increasing salaries while its TV broadcast revenue lags behind its competitors. The company is valued at an estimated $2 billion.
There are, as Washington Post reporter Steve Goff notes, major hurdles to getting this done. Getting FAs to agree to participate will be tough, even though they’ll make quite a bit of money. No one wants to finish in last place at the NIT after failing to make the World Cup and embarrass themselves further. Clubs will not be happy about being asked to release players for a cash-grab tournament that doesn’t mean anything.
But if anyone can round up some venues, a TV deal, and a cash guarantee for participating teams, it’s SUM. If they’re genuinely looking into the possibility of getting these teams together for some games in the United States, they shouldn’t be laughed off.
Where there is an opportunity to make money off soccer, SUM will be there to explore it, as long as the company exists.