Why World Cup 2018 could be a hard sell

July 18, 2014, 2:00 PM UTC
Germany's forward Miroslav Klose (L) runs at France's defender Raphael Varane during the quarter-final football match between France and Germany at The Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on July 4, 2014,during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. AFP PHOTO / PEDRO UGARTE (Photo credit should read PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Pedro Ugarte — AFP/Getty Images

Just days after Germany’s victory over Argentina in the World Cup finals, the focus has already shifted to the 2018 tournament in Russia. It should be another opportunity for great match-ups, penalty kicks and players rolling on the turf in feigned agony. If the Sochi Olympics earlier this year are any guide, Russia will spend whatever it takes – and then some – to prepare for the event. But money can’t buy everything. The Winter Games fell short in some areas like unfinished hotels, stray dogs and aggressive security. While the World Cup is a different beast, we at Fortune think there may be at least a few roadblocks to success on Russian turf once again.

Time zones and travel difficulties:

Watching Russia’s World Cup could be a big aggravation for television viewers (think lots of tape-delayed games). Between the East Coast and Moscow, there’s an eight-hour time differential, which means any early afternoon matches would be televised painfully early in the morning. The recent World Cup final had a record 17 million viewers, and a strong 9.1 rating. Basically, U.S. fans trying to catch the game at work – and post about it on social media are in trouble. Don’t count on big T.V. audiences, at least in the U.S.

In terms of traveling in Russia, it will likely be tricky. For instance, Yeakterinburg, the easternmost host city, is two time zones away from Moscow. Visitors can always take the train, of course. But Russia’s railroad system is in dire need of a refurbishment. Building high-speed rail links throughout the country would cost $157 billion, according to Bloomberg. Given the huge distances, air transportation will have to be beefed up across the country. That’s a lot of upgrades to infrastructure for a country that didn’t do so well with building hotels for the Olympics.

High cost and lack of stadiums.

With the Winter Olympics, Russia proved willing to cover any cost to put on a splashy international show. But that doesn’t always mean money well-spent. Russia plans to spend at least $20 billion to spruce up the 11 host cities including Moscow and, yes, Sochi. To put Russia’s plans in perspective, Brazil spent about $14 billion to host the World Cup, according to the L.A. Times. So far, there are only three stadiums that can handle more than 35,000 fans. Two-thirds of the stadiums, according to The Guardian, will be built from scratch. If Sochi’s any guide, planning and organization will need to go into overdrive to ensure timely delivery – and actual soccer fields where teams can compete.

Human rights and safety issues.

Russia’s policies against homosexuality received widespread attention up to and during the Sochi Olympics. In fact, President Obama appointed a delegation of openly gay athletes to attend on his behalf. While it’s hard to anticipate the social climate four years from now, there’s likely to be little change – especially if Putin is re-elected. Of course, there’s also the issue of Ukraine, a part of which Russia invaded and annexed. Asked about that conflict, Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports minister, deflected the issue during a press conference in Brazil. “It’s a different subject and it will not influence preparations for the World Cup at all,” he said. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, struck an optimistic note. “Football helps to solve social problems,” he said. “Our task is to create the best possible conditions for the coaches, players, experts and fans.”