It is a week before the London Olympics begin, and for the next 10 days soccer, more than any other sport, will be front and center in the United States. It is not World Cup, which will still have to share time with other American sports in 2014, it is a series of friendlies and one very real match that will have a majority of the world’s greatest clubs and athletes crisscrossing the country to give brands, and both the casual and die-hard fan, a real dose of sustained global football for maybe the first time for this long.
The soccer frenzy will come in several forms, from the Herbalife World Football Challenge that has MLS clubs battling the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germaine, Celtic, Santos and AC Milan, to other “friendlies” involving AS Roma, Tottenham, Montpellier and Lyon, to the French “Super Cup” between Lyon and Montpellier to the MLS All-Star Game in Philadelphia. Regardless, it will be an extravaganza of big name soccer in cities from Seattle to Kansas City to New York, all designed to showcase the sport and to show that club soccer and the passion for it is stronger than ever.
The series of matches will also be a great test to see how American brands, long ingrained in American sport but looking for more global partnerships, can see how they could potentially fit into new programs with global soccer brands, programs that can resonate both in the States and around the world. It will also provide further proof to non-American brands looking to access the U.S. sports landscape that soccer, and not just at the grassroots level, has a very passionate and growing fan base that can support new fan engagement platforms surrounding a club sponsorship. Also, the matches will provide continued fodder for Major League Soccer here to again buoy the notion to all that soccer is a sustainable and solid investment as sport, and that MLS, as America’s professional league can provide a great compliment to all who follow and engage in the world’s largest sport.
Now it is true that all these matches, with the exception of Lyon-Montpellier at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey next Saturday, are essentially exhibitions and pre-season tune-ups for clubs as they open their regular seasons on home turf later this summer. It is also true that as a one-off, the elite clubs will draw diehard and curiosity-seekers who may or may not return for match after match with so much American professional sport going on. However to have these many matches with these elite clubs in this many locales with this much interest is indeed a strong statement of growing interest in the sport in the United States. In the past sure some matches, but not this many with all these clubs in front of these large crowds in iconic venues ranging from Wrigley Field to Yankee Stadium to Fenway Park and beyond.
The two weeks will provide a great case study in the global sport of soccer and its continued viability in the States, both for existing parties involved in the game and for casual supporters who may not become more engaged on multiple levels.
A rising tide lifts all ships, and in the case of professional soccer interest, these next few weeks should see the highest of tides for those looking for a wave to catch. Great news for a great game.