Does the regular football fan care about Copa America anymore?

Brazil
Brazili team celebrate with the Copa America trophy after defeating Peru in the final at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro in 2019. Image Credit: AP

Copa America, the symbol of supremacy in the beautiful game in Latin America, is due to start in a few days from now – but one cannot help getting a feeling that it has become a bit of nobody’s child. And the recent surge of COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted a change of venue from Argentina at the eleventh hour, may be only one of the reasons behind it.

The tournament, originally due to have been hosted in both Colombia and Argentina from June 13 to July 10, ran into rough weather due to the civil unrest in the former – while Lionel Messi’s country had to impose a new lockdown with the number of Covid cases rising manifold again. In a hurried decision, Conmebol – the governing body of the sport in the continent – shifted to Brazil though it has neither met with the approval of it’s top footballers nor citizens.

It’s rarity to see Brazilians protesting against the idea of playing host to a prestigeous football tournament like the Copa, but they can be hardly blamed in view of the havoc wreaked by the pandemic – which saw total cases exceedings 16 million and deaths approaching 460,000. Casemiro, one of the marquee names of the national team who plies his trade for Real Madrid – stopped short of criticising the establishment for hosting the tournament at an inappropriate time when the South American countries are at pains to finish their Qatar 2022 Qualifiers itself.

The build-up to the upcoming edition of Copa, hence, stands in sharp contrast to Euro 2020 – which has the footballing world agog in anticipation to watch the big guns in action for the next one month. Is it because of the shadows of the pandemic only, the predictability of a two-horse race between Brazil and Argentina for supremacy or the TV-unfriendly timings with matches starting at the dead of night because of the time-difference which is taking the sheen away from the oldest international tournament ? These are really the points to ponder.

First up, there is no point in denying that in modern sport where TV eyeballs rule the roost, Copa loses out heavily to Euro because of the unearthly timings for the matches in some of the biggest markets for football like Europe or Asia. There used to be a time when yours truly would set the alarm clock at 4 am to watch a mouth-watering contest featuring Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay or Chile – but not anymore.

The other major contributing factor – in today’s context – is that almost all the saleable stars from top Latin American countries are the major exports in the flourishing European leagues. A Leo Messi is available every weekend on satellite TV for Barcelona, Neymar and Edinson Cavani for PSG, Luis Suarez for Atletico Madrid or even a Alexis Sanchez for Inter Milan – thus chipping away at the novelty value of watching these stalwarts only at the Copa.

Fortunately enough, the commercial viability of Copa is still huge – and this can be the saving grace for the sustenance of the tournament. Dentsu, the Japanese advertising giant, holds exclusive global consulting and commercial sales rights to the Copa America in a 10-year deal running to 2028. The 2019 edition generated $118 million in revenue – underlining why it’s an imperative for Conmebol to stage the tournament against all odds.

The magic is not all lost for us though. Can someone like Messi, who has taken the white-and-blue shirts to two consecutive finals but couldn’t win it, have a last Hurrah? Or will it be Brazil again? Or a Cavani, whose country has won the Copa the maximum number of times (15) in history?

We will find out in a month!