The Beginning of the End of the Mega Sporting Event?
The Olympics, the World Cup, and the Super Bowl - all three mega sporting events are in trouble for one reason or another. Is this the beginning of the end for these kind of sport spectaculars?
Probably not. But 2014 appears not to be a good year for them either.
In Brazil, where soccer's World Cup will be held later this summer, the most-watched sporting event in the world is proving to be unpopular with some, who apparently don't mind it when their magnificent team wins in other countries, but resent the billions being spent to prepare for the games.
Demonstrators and police clashed in Sao Paulo during the first in a planned series of anti-World Cup protests across Brazil called by radical activist group Anonymous.
With less than five months before the June 12 kick-off -- when the five-time champions and hosts take on Croatia -- Brazil is facing the same kind of social rumblings that marred last year's Confederations Cup dress rehearsal.
Anonymous called for protests against football's fabled event via its Facebook page under the slogan "The Cup will not take place."
Other activists said "FIFA go home" on Twitter, referring to football's world governing body, which was likely watching the weekend's events with some concern.
Brazilians are avid users of social media, a favored tool to organize protests.
But turnout was modest.
In the country's sprawling industrial and financial hub of Sao Paulo, about 2,500 people demonstrated near the Art Museum and on the key Avenida Paulista, chanting and waving signs like "Wake up Brazil, a teacher is worth more than (footballer) Neymar."
Demonstrators and police clashed, with protesters burning tires and garbage, and some engaging in vandalism targeting banks and other businesses.
Sao Paulo military police said they arrested 128 people.
Rio de Janeiro -- where huge demonstrations turned violent in July -- rallied just about 200 to a demonstration on landmark Copacabana Beach.
The capital Brasilia and the central city of Goiania each saw small demonstrations of fewer than 100, local media reported.
Anonymous, which has staged a number of highly publicized stunts in different countries, vowed that the protests planned for 36 cities across Brazil -- a nation of 200 million -- would "be followed by others."
Many in football-mad Brazil say they are not against the World Cup as such -- their country of 200 million is the most successful nation in the tournament's 84-year history.
But they are outraged to see hundreds of millions of dollars spent on preparing 12 host cities for the sports jamboree when poor infrastructure and areas such as health and education require urgent massive investment.
Brazil will also host the 2016 Olympic games -- another massive outlay of government funds for which there is building resentment. Brazil may be soccer's Mecca but its people aren't convinced that the investment to stage an extravaganza watched on TV by more than a billion people is worth it.
Speaking of the Olympics, security for the games beginning in Sochi next month is looking more and more like a crapshoot. One expert stated the area around Sochi to be as dangerous as Iraq:
In an interview with Fox News National Security Analyst KT McFarland, former FBI officer Bill Daly called the threat of an attack in or near Sochi “credible.”
“They are out there … the to and from routes are vulnerable,” Daly said of Sochi’s remote location. “They [athletes] can be as vulnerable as some of our troops who were traveling in Iraq on some of these more remote routes,” said Daly
Oh, joy. Can we really trust the Russians not to muck it up? I don't think our government does:
The United States will be ready to rescue Americans from the upcoming Sochi Olympics, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said amid heightened security fears in the run-up to the Games.
"If we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do this," Hagel told journalists on Friday.
Over 10,000 American athletes and spectators are expected to attend the Games, which start on Feb. 7.
Russia has the main responsibility for protecting the Olympics, but recent deadly suicide attacks have heightened worries about militant attacks.
On Thursday, the U.S. Olympic team and at least five other national delegations said they had received messages making terrorist threats ahead of the Games.
So we have that to look forward to.
Finally, the Super Bowl may become of victim of Polar Vortex -- The Sequel. If people are voting with their feet -- and their pocketbooks -- the first cold weather Super Bowl in history looks like it's going to be an epic fail.
Weather forecasts a week out from the game are predicting temps in the 20's -- balmy if you live in Green Bay or some other northern city. But who wants to shell out a couple of grand for tickets to sit in a cold stadium, watching cold players try to play a decent game of football?
Cold weather is driving the cost of Super Bowl tickets to the lowest level in at least two years as fans wince at the thought of shivering in temperatures of around 20F next Sunday.
The cheapest ticket on ticket exchange Stub Hub was $1,277.50 at midday today.
That has fallen even further than yesterday when ESPN calculated that a $1,779 ticket was $409 cheaper than at the same time last year and $809 than in 2012.
However NFL officials remain unconcerned about both turnout and takings - the most expensive ticket on offer is a suite for a cool $686,720.
Forecasters are predicting one of the coldest Super Bowls in recent memory this year as a second block of arctic air hovers over New York and New Jersey. Temperatures are expected to hover around 30F all week and there is now a 30 per cent chance of snow on Super Bowl Sunday.
The venue, Met Life stadium in New Jersey is also open to the elements meaning a potentially uncomfortable experience for the majority of fans who will not be in heated suites.
There is even speculation that the game could be postponed if faced with heavy snow - an outcome that would surely bring questions about the decision to hold the game in an uncovered stadium in the North East.
Maybe the league executives didn't feel like leaving town for the game this year -- even if it was held in more tropical city. The NFL offices are in New York and I'm sure the league big-wigs appreciate the short drive to New Jersey to attend the game.
But how about the 70,000 other people stuck watching a rump-freezing, teeth-chattering game in the wind and snow? And what happens if the weather becomes dangerous?
Could we see a Super Bowl Friday, or Saturday, or even Monday? Believe it or not, it's possible if a major storm threatens the big day.
"We don't have a crystal ball on weather, but we're confident we'll be able to have our events," said Eric Grubman, executive VP, NFL.
On Wednesday, more than 1,000 workers shoveled out 13 inches of snow from the stands at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
"Our game is to experience the elements. It's part of what we do. It's part of football, and I believe that's part of our history," said Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner.
The Super Bowl will go on and is in no danger of becoming extinct. There will be a Super Bowl next year and the year after that -- just like there will probably be Olympic games and World Cups far into the future.
But for a variety of reasons, these sporting events are beginning to lose a little luster. There won't be the same cachet associated with the Olympics if there's trouble, nor will the World Cup be quite the same if there is unrest while the tournament is underway.
And while you can't kill the Super Bowl, a change in date due to weather will expose NFL executives to heavy -- and deserved -- criticism. Might something go out of that event as well?
What connects all three of these events is mega-hype. And while the games usually fall short of expectations, 2014 promises to be even more of a disconnect from reality