The Co$t of Winning – European Clubs US Tours

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In under a month the Premier League kicks off. Clubs are already well into their preseason schedules, with players that have been training since the start joined by those returning from post World Cup holidays. Clubs are now engaged in the traditional preseason friendlies and many now taking part in the obligatory preseason overseas tour. Asia, Australia and the Middle East have all been popular destinations, and some clubs are taking the road most travelled once again. However many Premier League clubs are touring the USA this year. This is not a new phenomenon as clubs have been trying to “crack” America for years. When the top clubs visit Asia there are thousands of screaming fans who turn up decked out in the latest replica shirts. While they are still a big attraction when they visit America, European clubs have never been greeted with the same fever that they have been in the Far East.

European Clubs US Tours

European clubs tours to America do not just focus on playing against the local MLS teams, blockbuster exhibition games and tournaments are now the norm with 2014 no exception. The Guinness International Champions Cup will feature Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Roma, Olympiacos & Real Madrid. Of those eight clubs only the two Manchester teams have friendlies against MLS clubs in addition to their participation in the tournament. On the other side of the coin Premier League clubs Arsenal, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Tottenham and West Bromwich Albion will be in America playing against local opposition.

Looking at who benefits from these games financially it can be win-win. A sell out game for the local team brings in valuable revenue and the games have been included in some clubs season ticket packages, with New York Red Bulls’ game against Arsenal actively marketed as a selling point for their season tickets. The European teams benefit as it is a chance to develop their brand in a market with huge potential. However there are draw backs to these games too. The aforementioned New York Red Bulls v Arsenal game has led to the Red Bulls amending their schedule, rearranging a league match v Houston Dynamo, to fit the game in, which could lead to fixture congestion, tiredness and hurt the chances of the playoff chasing Red Bulls.

Whether or not these games grow the sport is something which is still in question. Do these friendlies bring in new fans or do people turn up watch the Europeans and never return? New York’s game against Chicago Fire, which was sold as part of a promotion, has come close to selling out. However despite selling out their season tickets the Red Bulls average attendances are down from 19,460 in 2013 to 18,256 through week 18 of 2014. Therefore there are some who perhaps only purchased a season ticket for one game to watch Arsenal play, which would suggest that these friendlies are not growing the sport.

European clubs tours to America are great marketing exercises and help build their brands and can even be a money spinner for the local teams. However the way to develop the sport in the USA, is in the USA. Marketing Major League Soccer as an attractive option to fans, rather than watching teams on another continent on TV, will be far more productive than a handful of glamour friendlies. Maintaining the integrity of its season would increase the prestige of MLS worldwide, rather than moving fixtures around to fit in with visiting teams from Europe. Developing the national team will help develop the sport as well. The USA’s success at the World Cup in Brazil shows there is the appetite for the game in the USA. 10 of the players taking part in Brazil play for MLS teams. If the national team can have continued success then people will want to watch their heroes on a weekly basis, and that can lead them to watching the game at home. European tours have their benefits but they are now mostly for the European teams and American teams might have to go in another direction if they want to continue to develop.

 

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