This week brings to and end a frantic few weeks of soccer “friendlies” in the United States, capped off Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium with Real Madrid meeting A.C. Milan at Yankee Stadium in New York the second of two powerhouse matches in The Bronx this month. However, it was well beyond the second “House That Ruth Built” that global soccer had its effect this past month. From Seattle to Houston, Los Angeles to Boston, Kansas City to Miami, Chicago to Philadelphia soccer as a brand took the headlines, maybe not away from baseball, the Olympics and the NFL, but certainly as a partner in a year away from World Cup like never before.
It was not just about the matches either, clubs from around the world went out of their way to create viral campaigns, fan group activation platforms and clinics to embrace not just the diehard soccer fan but the casual fan as well. With those activation platforms, the clubs probably found new fans amongst the casual and reinforced the support of a growing legion of regular supporters whose interaction with the clubs may have only been on TV or online to this point.
Here, with the help of some of my Columbia University graduate students, is a brief look at some of the best of the best ways that clubs found their way into the hearts and minds of American soccer fans this July and early August:
- Chelsea players practicing football and soccer with players of the Seattle Seahawks, creating viral video campaigns and sharing their athletic abilities in front of the media and fans of both sports.
- Paris Saint-Germain releasing their new Nike kit not in a store or in a press setting but on a boat in the Hudson River, in front of the Statue of Liberty
- For the MLS All-Star game, a giant soccer ball signed by the MLS All-Stars, Chelsea players, Mayor Nutter and Commissioner Garber toured Philadelphia. The ball made stops at the Art Museum steps, Love Park, Phillies game, Independence Hall and other locations. As part of the tour, people were able to sign the ball and take photos with it, creating awareness and excitement for the game.
-Real Madrid players trying their hand, hilariously so, at baseball in an online campaign.
-Tottenham players finding their way to both Central Park and Times Square, using social media to spread the word and meet up with club supporters in the middle of New York without most of the population knowing.
-Yankees star Mariano Rivera visiting and creating photo ops with Real Madrid during their tour stops in New York, linking Latino fans to the two sports they enjoy most, and providing crossover publicity for two of sports biggest global brands.
Those were just some of the ways clubs helped further tie themselves to a fervent following of soccer fans in the States. Now granted only one match out of the dozens played was “for keeps,” that being the exciting French Cup final won by Lyon 3-2 over Montpellier in penalty kicks at red Bull Arena in New Jersey, but in many ways the friendlies gave clubs a chance to do even more in the community than they would have closer to their season start. The programs also gave fans a chance to touch and feel elite soccer and by doing so, probably helped lift the presence of Major League Soccer here as the MLS season kicks into its end run in the early fall.
It was a great celebration of “The Beautiful Game” the past six weeks, and hopefully has set the table for even greater expansion, activation and celebration for the time leading up to the ultimate party, Rio 2014.