IMG, SUM Get Biggest U.S. Soccer Event Since 1994 World Cup

  • IMG and Soccer United Marketing said to bid almost $20 million
  • Competition had been in doubt after $110 million bribe scheme

IMG and Soccer United Marketing won selling rights for the the biggest soccer event to be held in the U.S. since the 1994 World Cup, after the 2016 tournament was almost canceled amid fallout from the FIFA corruption scandal.

The joint bid by IMG and Soccer United Marketing, or SUM, a subsidiary of Major League Soccer, won a sponsorship and broadcast tender for the Copa America Centenario. The group is offering a guarantee of a little under $20 million with any remaining profits split between the organizers and the rights holders, said a person familiar with the deal who was not authorized to speak publicly. A previous deal - now scrapped amid the ongoing corruption probe -- was worth $112.5 million.

The 16-team competition that marks the 100-year anniversary of soccer’s oldest regional tournament, the Copa America, will be played across the U.S. and feature national teams from North and South America.

"We are excited to contribute to what will be another watershed moment in the development of soccer in North America," said SUM President Kathy Carter.

The Copa America is central to the corruption case that has rocked global soccer, with the U.S. Justice Department alleging that regional soccer leaders traded rights to Datisa, a specially created marketing company, for four editions of the tournament in return for $110 million in bribes. According to the Justice Department, some $40 million in bribes was paid by the time the scheme came to light.

So far 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives have been charged in connection with the corruption schemes, including the former presidents of Conmebol and Concacaf, the governing bodies for South and North American soccer. They deny wrongdoing.

It took months of tough talks between soccer officials to prevent the competition from being scrapped, with some arguing the event’s reputation had been too badly tarnished to be held. In the end, proponents of the event managed to convince the skeptics that a tournament including record five-time world champion Brazil and Lionel Messi’s Argentina would be a hit.

The bid by IMG, a global sports and entertainment agency, and Sum beat out 12 competitors following a detailed tender process, the first one ever undertaken for a Copa America. Conmebol’s President Juan Angel Napout said his organization will adopt the event’s tender process for all its future contracts. In previous years, tournament rights were handed to favored partners in return for kickbacks, according to U.S. prosecutors.

Datisa, a joint venture between Argentinian agencies Torneos and Full Play and Brazilian agency Traffic Sports International, had said its contracts for the Copa America were valid even after the owners of all three companies were charged in the corruption probe. An agreement was finally reached to drop Datisa in October.

With their federations the most-damaged by the U.S. allegations, Conmebol and Concacaf are in the process of overhauling their governance structures. Concacaf, a regional body that also oversees soccer in Central America and the Caribbean, has added clauses to its statutes that require its partners to sign a code of conduct. Paul Taubman’s investment bank PJT Partners was hired to oversee the tender process.

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