The start of the 2023-24 soccer season is fast approaching with many of the world’s biggest clubs having returned to their training complexes and about to jet off to various continents to take part in pre-season competitions against other European teams.
Spanish LaLiga giants Real Madrid will be flying to the United States to play four matches against top European clubs, including their biggest domestic rivals Barcelona.
Liverpool, meanwhile, have two games scheduled in Singapore which includes a match against the German Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, the second time in two years that Liverpool will tour to Singapore. The Merseyside club have not hesitated to target the region of Asia, especially as their long-term front-of-shirt sponsor Standard Chartered has a major presence in Singapore.
Wrexham A.F.C, backed by Hollywood duo Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, have become more popular in the US than many traditional US sports teams after the success of the club’s award-winning ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ documentary, which allowed the team to showcase its rise into the Football League to a substantial American audience.
The rapid rise in popularity of Wrexham stateside, thanks to its famous owners, has resulted in the club scheduling to play four matches in the US this summer against Chelsea FC, LA Galaxy II, Manchester United, and Philadelphia Union II.
Americans have been keen to snap up tickets to watch not just Enzo Fernández or Marcus Rashford live, but their favorite Wrexham players such as Paul Mullin. Wrexham have become so popular in the US that the club has attracted the attention of United Airlines, which recently agreed a one-year deal with the team worth $400,000 to serve as their front-of-shirt sponsor for the upcoming season.
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The financial gains that teams can generate from pre-season tournaments across the globe are potentially a key element of the clubs’ yearly income. Therefore, the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic had on clubs by halting pre-season tours was a significant concern and, for many teams, stopped vital revenue streams as they were unable to tap into new, potentially huge overseas markets and seize promotional opportunities with major sponsors.
Pre-season competitions have been a major factor in allowing many of the biggest European clubs to identify new target markets. Over the last decade, the North American, Asian, and Middle Eastern markets have opened many lucrative commercial opportunities and provided clubs with the chance to expand their global fanbase – or rather customer base.
It was estimated that Manchester United’s 2019 tour of Australia generated the club a total of roughly $16.6 million from promotional exhibition games and promotional tours, which included tour sponsorship opportunities that were sold to existing and new partners.
One example of a club acting to grow its fanbase globally is Tottenham Hotspur, which chose to travel to South Korea for a summer tour in 2022. Son Heung-min has developed into a world-class player since his arrival at Tottenham and has become the poster boy of South Korean sport.
Fans travel from South Korea to London to watch their idol each season and due to Son’s stardom, many South Koreans are now avid Spurs supporters.
In the build-up to the 2022 tour, Tottenham agreed sponsorship deals with several Korean brands, including a partnership with the delivery company Coupang, which operates in Korea very much like Amazon.
Coupang served as the naming rights holder of the tour, which was a major success for the London club. With Tottenham hosting various engaged opportunities for fans to meet players and become closer to their favorite team, the club has now cemented itself as the most supported Premier League sidein South Korea.
One of the first major pre-season competitions, which was launched back in 2013, was the International Champions Cup, a tournament constructed by multi‑billionaire and owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Stephen M Ross, with the intention to capture all the pre-season matches of major European teams.
The inaugural competition was held in the US and Spain, with the final attracting over 67,000 mostly American fans to see Real Madrid beat Chelsea at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The International Champions Cup continued to show considerable growth as new media and sponsorship deals were struck and ticket sales continued to increase year-on-year.
In 2014, the match between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Ann Arbour’s Michigan Stadium attracted 109,318 fans, which was a record for a soccer game in the States.
The International Champions Cup in 2015 expanded geographically, stepping into Europe, Australia, and China, while matches also continued to be played in the US. A winner was crowned for each region based on points total.
GlobalData’s sponsorship data for the 2019 edition of the competition highlights the commercial attraction that the tournament had globally, as over 30 broadcasters obtained rights to show the seventh edition, including globally recognized media networks such as BeIN Sports, DAZN, and ESPN.
Sponsorship for the International Champions Cup saw five brands partnering with the competition. The biggest annual sponsorship deal in 2019 was from UnionPay, the Shanghai-based financial services firm, which had a one-year agreement in place worth an estimated $650,000 annually according to GlobalData.
Since the 2019 tournament, Covid-19 has had a significant effect on the competition. The 2020 edition was cancelled due to the global pandemic and there has been no announcement that any new men’s International Champions Cup will take place.
This summer will see the first ever Premier League pre-season tournament take place in the US – the Premier League Summer Series. Matches will take place across five major East Coast cities.
Aston Villa, Brentford, Brighton & Hove Albion, Chelsea, Fulham, and Newcastle United will participate in nine matches between July 22 and July 30.
The Premier League has previously hosted pre-season tournaments in Asia, but this year the league aims to increase its presence Stateside, a soccer market that is expected to grow rapidly over the coming years after the announcement that arguably the sport’s greatest-ever player Lionel Messi will be playing in Major League Soccer after signing for Inter Miami, a club owned by David Beckham.
The next men’s World Cup will also be co-hosted by the US, Canada, and Mexico in 2026.
More American eyes are expected to be on soccer and the Premier League will hope that new fans will contribute to the future growth of the competition’s viewership in the country.
NBC reported the 2022-23 English top-flight season was the second-most watched ever in the US and represented a 3% year-on-year increase in viewership in the region.
Clubs across the globe will be delighted that there are no more Covid-19 restrictions in place, which had previously prevented pre-season tours from taking place across the globe.
For many clubs this will be their first pre-season tour since the pandemic, allowing them to finally return to their target markets worldwide, strengthen their commercial relationships with sponsors, and recoup pre-season tour income that they missed out on because of the virus.
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