Are Copa America’s $200 tickets and empty seats a missed opportunity ahead of the World Cup?

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Are Copa America’s 0 tickets and empty seats a missed opportunity ahead of the World Cup?


When Argentina returns to MetLife Stadium to face Canada on Tuesday, they will likely do so before a soldout crowd. When they faced Chile in East Rutherford, it was the highest-attended match this Copa America so far.

It’s the norm at major tournaments: wherever the Argentina national team goes, fans follow.

This summer, they have gone from Atlanta to New Jersey to Miami to Houston and now back to New Jersey. The demand to catch Argentina and captain Lionel Messi has meant tickets to watch the world champions have been the most expensive. Yet fans have shown their willingness to pay hundreds of dollars for a single match ticket, if not more.

The average cost per ticket at Copa America is high anyway, however; estimated at more than $200 (£160), per multiple accounts. As we enter the final stages of the tournament, ticket prices are only getting higher.


Argentina fans at Hard Rock Stadium (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

For organizers CONMEBOL, attendance at this year’s Copa America may be considered a resounding success. Eight days before the tournament, officials boasted how more than one million tickets had already sold for the first 32 games. Alejandro Domínguez, president of South American football’s governing body, said officials were “filled with excitement and enthusiasm”.

Yet there have also been less-than-spectacular crowds at several group-stage matches, with every empty seat in cavernous NFL stadiums representing a missed opportunity to attract a fan who could have been enthralled by the growth of soccer in the United States. Never mind the impact on players or how poor those empty seats look to those watching at home on television.

While Copa America began with a reported sellout of just over 70,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta when Argentina were in town, the following five fixtures drew crowds that were tens of thousands of fans below each stadium’s capacity.

It wasn’t until the fifth day of competition, Colombia-Paraguay at NRG Stadium in Houston on June 24, that we saw another full stadium, as the table below shows. (Green indicates matches which were considered sold out, while red was below 66 per cent of capacity — and note that Levi’s Stadium has an expandable capacity.)

CONMEBOL said it consider nine of the 24 group-stage matches as sellouts. Copa America Centenario in 2016 — which also took place in the United States — sold more than 1.5 million tickets and has served as a benchmark for organizers this summers. By the conclusion of the group stage, sales were on track to reach similar figures to 2016, according to Ruben Olavarrieta, CONMEBOL’s commercial manager in charge of ticketing.

Before the tournament, Nery Pumpido, CONMEBOL’s deputy secretary general of soccer, told The Athletic that tickets were “set at a price that I think has been important, because people have come to buy a lot”.

Overpriced tickets were out of the confederation’s control, he continued, because the dynamic ticket pricing that determines those figures is handled by the ticketing partners at each stadium.

“From what has been demonstrated so far,” Pumpido said last month, “the price has been correct.”

Dynamic pricing has the potential to price out fans from some nations competing in the tournament. Not only are tickets costly, but any tourist attending matches would also have to account for hotels and flights in the United States — and also the travel between stadiums if they want to catch multiple matches.

Average net salaries in many of the competing Latin American nations fall below $900 (£700) per month. In Argentina, where inflation is among the highest in the world, the average monthly net salary was estimated at $423.32 last year, per Statista.

In many ways, dynamic ticketing favors American buyers with higher incomes and lower travel costs. The large diasporas of Latino communities across the U.S, coupled with the popularity of some tournament favorites, means Argentina, Brazil and Colombia have drawn the biggest crowds, but not in every market. When Colombia and Costa Rica battled it out in Glendale, Arizona, only 27,386 filled the 63,400-capacity State Farm Stadium.

For the July 4 quarterfinal match at NRG Stadium, where Argentina ousted Ecuador after a painstaking penalty shootout, the cost for a single resale ticket on Ticketmaster started at $176 on match day. Even eight minutes into play, tickets on StubHub were still going for $120.


Panama vs Bolivia in Orlando drew a crowd of 12,933, when the stadium capacity is 25,500 (Leonardo Fernandez/Getty Images)

Tickets for the remaining quarterfinals were still pricey, by soccer’s standards, but lower than Argentina-Ecuador. On Thursday, a single ticket for Venezuela-Canada at AT&T Stadium was $107, $132 for Brazil-Uruguay at Allegiant Stadium, and $70 for Colombia-Panama at State Farm Stadium in Arizona. That is likely due to the low turnout for Colombia in that market during the group stage.

All these prices do not include the service and processing fees, taxes and public transportation or parking that might be needed to get to a match. Parking cost up to $132 for Argentina’s quarterfinal in Houston.

But prices alone are not solely to blame for lackluster crowds at some of the tournament’s group-stage fixtures. Better marketing around matches could have raised the profile of some matches, especially those that included the United States. The team’s tournament opener against Bolivia at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, only drew 47,873 fans to the 80,000-capacity stadium.

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UMSNT’s second match against Panama in Atlanta only featured 59,145 fans in a 71,000-capacity venue. And when the U.S. fell to Uruguay 1-0 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City and exited the competition, only 55,460 fans filled the 76,400-capacity venue, with half of the upper bowl appearing empty on television. Blistering temperatures, and the team’s shocking fall to Panama the match prior, could have also been a deterrent.

Originally, the tournament was set to be played in Ecuador, but almost everyone involved considered the relocation to the United States last year as a win — except those in Latin America who considered it an unpopular decision. For CONCACAF (the confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean), it gave its member nations a chance to shine on South America’s biggest stage.

It also gave the United States, Mexico and Canada, co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup, a chance to capture fans’ interest ahead of the main event. Few South American nations have venues with such large capacities as the U.S, which is filled with massive NFL stadiums at the ready (even if that has brought its own issues with some of the fields), which was a prospective win for CONMEBOL. Would it have been prudent, however, to host games at smaller Major League Soccer stadiums with bigger pitches in more established markets for soccer fans?

While unsold tickets mean missed revenue for the South American federation and other stakeholders, the missed opportunity is more of an issue for those who want to grow the game in North America. Mexico and the United States failing to advance beyond the group stage has been viewed as an utter failure for both nations. Instead of captivating audiences with deep runs in the tournament and preparing markets for 2026, the conversation is squarely focused on the crisis each nation’s men’s soccer team now finds itself in.

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While Canada’s run to the semifinals no doubt helps, the CONCACAF nation has played in front of some of the smallest crowds in the tournament, such as the 11,622 fans who braved the heat to watch their 1-0 win against Peru at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. That match, in which an assistant referee collapsed from heat exhaustion due to the high temperatures, was the lowest-attended fixture all summer.

Canada has also had the misfortune of playing against teams with clear home-field advantages in every match.

“With how our fanbase works, and how diverse Canada is, even our home games (in Canada) have been really difficult,” said defender Alistair Johnston.

“And so I think that most of our matches with the national team have always been in these kinds of environments, and I think that has helped us in the long run so that when you do come and play the Argentinas, Peru, Chile, whoever it is, and probably again here against Venezuela as well, we are ready for that because it’s almost become the norm to us.”


Empty seats at the quarterfinal between Colombia and Panama at State Farm Stadium, Arizona (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The real crown jewel of the competition remains the final game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Its more limited capacity of 65,300 only pushes demand even higher. Tickets for sporting events and other entertainment in Florida as of July 1 are, however, tax-exempt through the end of the month thanks to local law.

As of Friday morning, a single resale ticket in the upper bowl at Hard Rock started at $1,369. That drops to $1,292 each when you buy two tickets together. That number will continue to rise and fall, with those same tickets going for $1,350 each just an hour earlier. The service fee for these tickets (an additional cost) was an estimated $271 each.

It’s why there will likely be several fans sprinkled around the outskirts of the stadiums hosting these last few rounds of Copa America, hoping to catch a glimpse of the madness while watching the match from the comfort of their phones or tablets. Of course, tickets for the remaining matches will continue to fluctuate depending on demand. So, one fan seated in the same section who purchased tickets weeks prior may end up paying hundreds more than a fan who bought a ticket hours before kick-off.

While the forensic accounting over the attendance and ticket sales will continue after the tournament’s final whistle, CONMEBOL has made one thing clear: the U.S. market is one it wants to continue exploring.

“It’s a place to look at, especially as hosts of the World Cup in 2026. That’s important to take into account,” Pumpido said.

“We believe the United States has also made great progress at the soccer level… (and) it has advanced a lot with the arrival of Messi. Of course, CONMEBOL will always have the United States in mind for tournaments in the future.”

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(Top photo: Empty seats for Costa Rica v Paraguay in Texas; by Buda Mendes via Getty Images)



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