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World Cup Benefits for Host and Overachieving Nations

World Cup is the most prestigious football tournament in the world. More than 3 billion viewers watched its previous version, a number that can be compared only with the Olympic Games. With all the attention it draws every time, World Cup benefits can be huge for every country participating at it. Especially host nations or overachievers of each tournament can even see the level of football in their country being increased significantly.

Abstract

This research reviews the World Cup benefits for each host nation, as well its overachievers. There has always been a debate about whether their success is ephemeral or it can lead them to even better results. In the first section of the text, the author describes what those benefits could potentially be and how they arise. Subsequently, he analyzes the issue in depth by exploring how they are connected with each nation’s achievements. To do so, their performance in three different categories is put under the microscope. The aim is to determine which could benefit the most and which are unable to build on this success.

Introduction

There is no football fan who does not get excited on the idea of a World Cup. Participation in this quadrennial event is the ultimate dream for many players, who want to represent their country against football superstars from all 6 continents. So far, 17 different nations had the honor to host the best national teams in the world (read more about World Cup history). This could give football in their country the boost it needs as stadiums are renovated or built, fans’ interest rises and draws the attention of international community. Furthermore, every time there are at least 1 or 2 teams, which against all odds, shock their opponents and finish above expectations.

But can those two types of teams really benefit from this success? Or is it just a short – term? On this research the author tries to give an answer to the above question by analyzing their records before and after the World Cup in various categories.

Data Collection and Methodology

For the current purposes, the performance of all host nations and overachievers of each World Cup since 1994 will be examined. A national team is considered as an overachiever during a World Cup if it reached at least quarter – finals while ranked below #12 in FIFA ranking prior to the tournament. Their performance will be evaluated according to the following criteria :

  1. Position in FIFA ranking 1 year before and up to 5 years after each tournament.
  2. Performance in major international youth competitions (from U – 16 to U – 21) in a period of 5 years before and after each tournament. Minimum condition is to have made the semi – finals.
  3. Average attendance of top – tier domestic professional league in a period ranging from 1 year before to 6 years after each World Cup edition.

World Cup Year is abbreviated as WCY.

World Cup Benefits : New Era for Host Nations

FIFA has always made its mission to spread football around the world. This is one of the reasons that since 1930, when the first World Cup took place, it has selected so many countries to host it. From countries with great history in the sport and big population such as England, Germany and Brazil to others with few achievements at international level (e.g. Switzerland, South Africa and even Qatar in 2022), total attendance of all 836 matches is approximately 37 million. Some tournaments were more successful, some other less, but nonetheless all of them had a great impact on the host country.

One of the biggest benefits is the automatic qualification. Otherwise countries like United States in 1994, Japan in 2002 and Russia this year would probably had not made it to final stage. Especially in the case of US, this was a key decision by FIFA that surprised everyone. USA had not qualified for a World Cup since 1950 and at that time there was not a top – tier professional league in the country. However, this accomplishment was meant to change the way Americans see football, or soccer as it is known in USA.

In addition, interest of local community in football is anticipated to rise significantly. Infrastructure improvement can attract more people to the sport, as well as clubs can now offer better training facilities to their players. This becomes more vital especially in countries where local economy is not so strong to support huge investments in football. As maybe opposed to the expected though, their economy does not always improve after hosting a World Cup. The table below demonstrates the annual change in GDP 2 years before and after it.

YearHostWCY - 2WCY - 1WCYWCY + 1WCY + 2
1994USA3.62.74.02.73.8
1998France1.42.33.63.43.9
2002South Korea8.94.57.42.94.9
2002Japan2.30.40.11.52.2
2006Germany0.70.93.93.40.8
2010South Africa3.2-1.53.03.32.2
2014Brazil1.93.00.5-3.6-3.5
Average2.92.41.72.11.6

Source : Bloomberg

Overachievers, the Unpredictable Factor

What adds more excitement to each World Cup is the anticipation of an underdog performing above average. Every time there is at least one national team which manages to eliminate stronger sides, reaching the quarter – finals, semi – finals or even finals. In its recent history nobody can forget Senegal’s win against France in 2002 or Turkey and South Korea finishing 3rd and 4th respectively. 12 years earlier, Cameroon was the first African team to reach the quarter – finals and only 10 minutes away from knocking England out of competition.

This kind of teams are probably the ones that can benefit the most from having a good tournament. It is a huge opportunity and challenge to show that they are not one – hit wonder teams and can build on this success in the future. Since however most of them do not have great tradition in football or an entertaining domestic league, in many cases it is difficult to prove that. Bulgaria shocked the world when it finished 4th in World Cup in 1994. However apart from Dimitar Berbatov there are not any other Bulgarian players who had a great career during 21st century. Even clubs of this Balkan country struggle to make the group stage of Champions League or Europa League.

Nonetheless, there are examples of nations that World Cup had a huge positive impact on them. Nigeria made its first appearance in 1994 beating Bulgaria and Greece in group stage before losing from Italy after extra time in round of 16. Results were quite remarkable. 2 years later its Olympic team won the gold medal in Atlanta and has qualified to 5 out of 6 World Cup editions since that date. Furthermore, many Nigerian players such as Kanu, Okocha, Martins and Mikel have benn members of famous European clubs

Unlike host nations, as it is also evident below, World Cup winners do indeed benefit economically from this achievement. Brazil´s GDP had an average increase of 3.2% in Q3 the last two times it won World Cup (1994 and 2002).

YearWinnerBeforeAfter
1994Brazil0.64.6
1998France0.70.8
2002Brazil0.41.7
2006Italy0.60.4
2010Spain0.20.0
2014Germany-0.20.3
Average0.51.4

Source : Bloomberg

FIFA Ranking, the Mirror of their Efforts

On the first part of the study, the national teams’ record in FIFA World Ranking the years after each World Cup will be analyzed. The FIFA World Ranking is a ranking system that is updated monthly. It was introduced in December 1992.

Although it has received criticism over the years, resulting in change of the calculation method twice so far, it is considered a quite efficient way to determine the strength of a national team.
From all teams which made the quarter – finals since 1994, Senegal in 2002 is the one that was the lowest ranked amongst them. On their first World Cup appearance The Lions of Teranga could be found in #42 of FIFA ranking (only China PR was below) before tournament started. Its win against France in the opening game is still considered one of the greatest surprises in history of World Cups. Bruno Metsu’s players eventually finished 7th, losing on sudden death from Turkey. After this success, Senegalese football started its ascent. From #89 in 2001, Senegal national football team was never ranked below #51 until 2008.

Host nations can also benefit, where home advantage definitely plays an important role. South Korea and Japan improved their presence in international football scene the first years after 2002 World Cup. Japan won two AFC Asian Cups in 2004 and 2011 while South Korea was usually a regular member of top – 40 of FIFA ranking the next 10 years. Even Germany which entered the 2006 World Cup as #19 is the only national team that has never been ranked below #6 since 2006.

On the other hand, it is interesting to see how other teams performed. Bulgaria’s is probably what can be called as a short – term success. Only 3 years after finishing 4th in 1994 World Cup, it had already fallen from #16 to #36 ending up even to #53 in 2000. This was also the case for South Africa, Ghana and Paraguay after 2010 World Cup. Even though the first couple of years they improved their ranking, shortly after they followed a linear decrease.

Those results are sum up to the following graphs. The evaluation period was eight years till 2006 when it was cut to four.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Apart from senior level, results of a successful performance in World Cup can be evident in young ages too. More children or teenagers are attracted to the sport inspired by their favorite players. 2018 World Cup increased the number of students who study football at Russian sport schools by 2% from 2011 to 2015. In addition, the number of registered football players saw an increase by 126%.

Many national federations improve their training facilities, recruitment and youth development methods under those circumstances. Even though U – 21 or U – 19 national teams attract less attention, they can still demonstrate the work that is done within a country and if they can create a new generation of talents.

Below their performance in continental and world tournaments (from U – 16 to U – 21) is displayed, in terms of percentage of available tournaments they managed to reach at least the semi – finals stage. The evaluation period is five years prior and after each World Cup.

Taking a closer look into the outcomes, it is evident that there is no any major impact. The only nations that significantly improved their performance at youth level are Turkey (2002), Germany (2006) and Uruguay (2010). Italy for example had won two youth tournaments between 2001 and 2006, but for the next five years it did not even make it to any final.

However this might have an explanation, as those squads change rapidly every 1 or 2 years. Therefore it is difficult to maintain the same strength throughout the years. In addition, even players who move to the next level quite often improve faster than their peers or vice versa. This is the challenge that federations have to deal with : continuously have a good youth level system that can feed their senior team.

Correlation Between Team Success and Supporters’ Commitment

The final section of this analysis investigates how fans perceive this success. In other words, if hosting a World Cup or seeing their national team performing above expectations in it, can bring more people to stadiums. It is a fact that can hardly be denied that the higher the level of a competition is the more spectators it usually attracts.

Under this scope, there are probably two types of strong domestic leagues. Those where many members of this national team play (such as Germany, Spain, England or even Brazil) and those were only few of them can be found, but its clubs have highly – reputed international players (e.g. Turkey and United States lately).

As mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, one of the main aims of 1994 World Cup was to introduce football to a totally new but very promising market. According to FIFA officials “United States was the only unconquered continent in the soccer set” (Janofsky, 1988). Results show that this was accomplished at a high extent. American Professional Soccer League was the de facto top professional football league in USA between 1990 and 1995. The average attendance of inaugural season of MLS was 17,406 which was higher than NBA or NHL. Over the next 3 years there was an average decrease equal to 6.1% though, but it was obvious that football had made its way into the lives of Americans.

The following charts display better the impact of hosting a World Cup or performing good at it has for the top – tier domestic league of some nations (note : official data partially or fully missing for those that have not been included).

It is very interesting for the reader to focus on the contrast between host nations with great football history (France, Germany, Brazil) and those with much less (South Africa, South Korea, Japan). All 3 countries that belong to first category saw an increase in their average attendance, while fans commitment in the other 3 was less encouraging with the exception of Japan. Especially in the case of South Africa, average attendance 6 years after 2010 World Cup was approximately 40% less than the year prior to it.

This could lead to the conclusion that there is a correlation between the success of a national team and popularity of the domestic league. South Korea is the greatest example of it. From 14,651 spectators back in 2009, 7 years later this number dropped to 10,214. The two main reasons were the bad performance of “Taegeuk Warriors” during this period as well as the signing of some of the best Korean players from Japanese or European clubs.

Results and discussion

As it can be concluded from the relevant outcomes, host nations can usually benefit long – term from a World Cup. Mostly by increasing their reputation and earning various achievements in international tournaments, but also bringing more fans to stadiums. This was more evident in strong sides such as France, Germany and Brazil.

This cannot be said with certainty though for the surprise teams of each World Cup. Some of them managed to maintain their prestige and further develop football within their borders, but not at a high extent. Apart from Croatia, Turkey and Uruguay, the rest of nations seem to started following a declining trend after a few years only.

Conclusion

To sum up, this research proved that not all nations can benefit at the same level from a potential participation or success in a World Cup. Usually nations with well – organized domestic leagues or many trophies win in the past can take advantage of it. Still, there are some exceptions to this rule which underline the fact that long – term benefits of performing well in a World Cup depend on whether each nation has the dynamic to manage this success.


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I believe that sports and data science interrelate perfectly and their combination gives us the chance to understand better the whole science behind a single game. Therefore, for me Statathlon is a unique project that enables me to use my passion for research and writing about an important aspect of my life.

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