Fifteen years ago, football’s administrators embarked on what remains sport’s biggest co-hosting experiment to date – the 2002 Fifa World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Once the dust had settled on the competition, though, their reflections centred on the frustrations encountered.
Squabbles between Japan and South Korea in the build-up to the event, and an insufficient number of flights between the two countries during the tournament itself were just two of the major issues to emerge during the unhappy interim marriage.
Such was the level of discord between the hosts and the operational obstacles experienced during the competition that football’s global governing body, reeling with an organisational and peace-keeping headache, subsequently confirmed that joint bids for future World Cups would be “automatically” rejected if there were “three or four” bids from individual countries.
However, time is a healer and the multiple examples of successful co-hosting models to have been staged across many sports in the intervening 15 years have altered the landscape, even for Fifa.
Earlier this year, the US, Canada and Mexico confirmed a joint bid for the 2026 Fifa World Cup. Up against Morocco in a two-horse race, it will be a major surprise if the North American bid fails to win.
If Fifa does opt for its first co-hosting arrangement for its showpiece tournament in 24 years, it will not be alone in embracing such a model after a plethora of recent announcements from a variety of international sports rights-holders.
The question, though, is why is this happening increasingly and what are the positive and negative implications of such an approach?
A problem halved?
Several forward-thinking international federations dabbled with a co-hosting approach after Fifa’s unhappy 2002 experiment. Notably, Uefa’s European Championships in 2008 and 2012 were co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland, and Poland and Ukraine, respectively, with varying degrees of success.
It is widely accepted, however, that the adoption of the Agenda 2020 roadmap by the International Olympic Committee in December 2014 heralded a significant shift in opinion.
In recommendation one of the roadmap the IOC agreed “to allow, for the Olympic Games, the organisation of entire sports or disciplines outside the host city or, in exceptional cases, outside the host country, notably for reasons of geography and sustainability.”
IMAGE: Co-hosts Japan and the US face each other at the 2017 World Baseball Classic (Getty Images)
Next year the IOC’s vision will become a reality, when Pyeongchang stages the winter Olympic Games, with some of the competitions taking place in the neighbouring county of Jeongseon and in the city of Gangneung – more than 50km away from the heart of the Games.
Whether it’s a province-wide approach such as the 2018 Olympics, a country-wide model or indeed a continent-wide plan – as trialled by Uefa for its 2020 European Championships, which will take place across 13 countries – co-hosting is in trend.
Already this year the World Baseball Classic has taken place across Japan, Mexico, South Korea and the US, while the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships were staged by France and Germany.
Before 2017 is out, the Rugby League World Cup will have been held in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Next year the European Championships multi-sport event will be held in Glasgow and Berlin – a proposition that has attracted some of the most influential international federations in the Olympic Movement.
For governing bodies like the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), which sanctions the aforementioned World Baseball Classic, awarding joint hosting rights simply makes sense in a world that is more connected than ever before.
The WBSC is accustomed to such models, with the World Baseball Classic having been staged across multiple countries since its inaugural edition in 2006. In September the WBSC reached an agreement with Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league for the country to hold the latter stages of the 2019 edition of its Premier12 men’s national team baseball competition, with details of the countries set to host earlier rounds of the tournament yet to be revealed.
From a financial perspective, awarding events such as the World Baseball Classic and the Premier12 to more than one host is a logical step, according to Michael Schmidt, executive director of the WBSC’s baseball division.
“For WBSC, as a governing body of a team sport, it can make more economic sense to share duties and obligations between multiple hosts or nations, while having more ‘home teams’ and an electric atmosphere,” Schmidt tells SportBusiness International.
“If the ‘load’ is shared among multiple hosts, then more hosts will be able to meet the requirements of sharing and staging a major sports event.
“As the world governing body, we have to adapt to the current global economic conditions, so co-hosting is a viable and attractive model for us.”
There are obvious drawbacks to a co-hosting model. Schmidt acknowledges that the decision-making process is more “streamlined” when there is only one host country for an event. “More hosts mean more meetings and coordination to deliver a seamless, consistent event,” he says.
However, he cites the WBSC’s experiences of co-hosting as largely beneficial, particularly when roles and responsibilities between the different parties are clearly defined.
“WBSC has had very positive experiences with organising events, like the Premier12, under multiple hosts,” he adds. “We always have clear agreements of responsibilities and duties of each party involved, and have WBSC as the main coordinator and supervisor.
“The most important is that all the duties, targets, financial topics, communication tools and decision-making processes are clearly defined in advance.
“In our case, we always have the WBSC, as the rights-holder, in charge to decide if there are any issues. All parties involved shall have the same target and shared vision – to deliver the best possible event, so finding the right co-hosting partners is key. This is a win-win for everybody.”
Victor Matheson, professor in economics and accounting environmental studies at the College of the Holy Cross in the US, and co-author of ‘Going for the Gold: The Economics of the Olympics’, believes the issue of cost to have been a key driver behind the proliferation of joint bids for events.
“It is almost certainly because the costs of hosting some types of events, such as the World Cup and Olympics, have become so expensive,” Matheson tells SportBusiness International.
“Co-hosting spreads out the costs and may also limit the amount of new construction required for an event. One country may not have the eight to 12 stadia needed to host a major soccer tournament within engaging in a massive and expensive building boom. Two or three countries together may be able to cobble together the needed facilities.”
Matheson also reckons the pressure to reduce hosting costs has hit the hosts rather than the organising bodies – although it is widely accepted that Sochi’s eye-watering $51bn (€42bn) bill to host the 2014 winter Olympic and Paralympic Games sparked concerns that contributed towards a series of bids for the 2022 Games being scuppered by public or political opposition.
IMAGE: Mexican and US players may be rivals on the pitch, but the two countries have launched a joint bid with Canada for the 2026 Fifa World Cup (Getty Images)
“The organising bodies have typically not cared about the extreme burden they place on hosts because the costs are the host’s problem, while the organisers get the revenues either way,” Matheson says.
“Mega events typically have difficulty covering their costs due to infrastructure requirements, along with massive security costs. Limiting infrastructure costs by spreading out the event has real potential to reduce costs.
“There is little evidence that I know of that suggests co-hosting hurts revenues in any way. It shouldn’t affect broadcast revenues at all. And it may actually increase venue revenues, as more locals have access to the event.”
Michael Payne, a former International Olympic Committee marketing director, highlights the discrepancies that often occur in event-hosting cost breakdowns and the knock-on impact this can have.
“Few hosts – whether governments or organisers – present financial costs of events properly,” he tells SportBusiness International.
“Often capital costs are included in the cost of an event and it is totally ridiculous to try and amortise these capital costs over the length of an event… Once there is a proper presentation of costs, the picture can be much more positive.”
Benefits and drawbacks
Payne acknowledges the clear benefits of the co-hosting model for both the host city and the international federation.
“Federations need to ensure the continuation of staging successful events, while hosts need to find a way to spread the load, especially if multiple stadia are required,” he adds.
“Therefore, the advantages include reduced risk and capital outlay, as well as allowing smaller communities to share in the hosting of major events.”
Matheson agrees that “the main advantage is the fact that co-hosts are more likely to have the infrastructure in place to co-host than a single site.”
However, he acknowledged that there are problems that are likely to be encountered as well.
“The main disadvantage is coordination and appealing to tourists who may not wish to have to travel to multiple sites,” he says.
Payne also suggests that some international federations have been forced to consider joint-hosting proposals due to a lack of options on the table.
“There is a combination of factors, not least, in the case of the (2020) European Championships, the lack of potential single-country bids, so it was the only offer Uefa had,” he says.
Moreover, host cities of major events – if they get it right – can lift their profile internationally, in the business and tourism sectors, as well as in sport.
The 1992 summer Olympic Games in Barcelona is often held up as a prime example of a city that relaunched itself as a main destination for international visitors on the back of a major event, but few cities have been able to achieve such results in a cost-effective manner since then.
However, that has not stopped smaller destinations from reaching for the stars in their pursuit of the ultimate international city-branding marketing campaign.
“It is a way for smaller countries to team together with neighbours to be able to host a major event,” Payne says.
“The disadvantage is that the organisation of the event is more complex. After the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, Fifa said ‘never again’. Also, it is harder to build true national engagement and an atmosphere, as we will see with the European Championships.”
For Matheson, the 2026 Fifa World Cup, if it is awarded to North America, provides an interesting case study that will provide a litmus test of where the world sits on the position of co-hosting major events.
Whereas joint bids have often been driven by cost concerns, with the North American tilt, political and subtle vote-winning strategies are likely to have played a bigger part.
Admittedly, the tournament is expanding drastically from 32 to 48 teams from the 2026 edition.
However, it is worth remembering that the US hosted the Fifa World Cup in 1994, Mexico has twice staged football’s showpiece, in 1970 and 1986, and Canada received widespread praise for its management of the 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup.
“The 2026 World Cup is almost certainly going to be co-hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico,” Matheson says. “This is a special case where minimising infrastructure cost is not at all the primary concern.
“The US had sufficient stadia in place already to host the entire tournament.
“In this case, the joint bid was simply established to eliminate the possibility of a competing bid from Canada or Mexico and to present a unified front to Fifa during the bidding cycle.”
With 41 cities across the three countries having expressed an interest in becoming one of the 12 likely host destinations during the tournament, the appeal of participating in an event of such magnitude – whether it is being co-hosted or otherwise – cannot be underestimated.
- This article features in the World Class Sports Hosts supplement which appeared in this month's SportBusiness International magazine