Wed, Aug 15, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Waning interest in US soccer tours

The Guardian

Do not call it pre-season. Meaningless games are now a thing of the past, at least according to the International Champions Cup (ICC).

Billed as “club football’s premier summer tournament,” this year’s edition was the largest to date, with 18 teams and 27 games played in 22 cities on three continents.

However, the crowd numbers did not quite live up to hype.

On more than one occasion, swathes of empty seats were visible for games involving some of the world’s biggest clubs. Only 16,000 fans turned up at the 69,000-capacity Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a match between Borussia Dortmund and Benfica.

The German and English champions, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, sold less than 30,000 tickets for their game in Miami.

There were still successes: A crowd of 101,245 watched the clash between Manchester United and Liverpool at The Big House in Ann Arbor, while 71,597 supporters caught the game between Real Madrid and Juventus in Maryland.

However, looking at the bigger picture, there is a trend. Fans are turning their back on the ICC. Average attendance at this summer’s tournament were down 18.6 percent from last year.

Charlie Stillitano, executive chairman of Relevent Sports, which hosts the ICC, said that ticket sales are in fact up this year.

“There were 492,000 sold in 2013, 642,000 in 2014, 985,000 for 2015, 964,000 in 2016 and 903,000 for 2017,” he said. “And we think this year we’re on track for 1.1 million.”

However, this is largely down to the fact that eight more games were played this summer. Per match, attendances are significantly down.

It could be argued that this is a knock-on effect from the World Cup — with many superstars still on holiday, tickets were naturally harder to shift and there was a general fatigue after a month of matches.

However, that explanation does not wash, considering that Atlanta United set a new MLS attendance record on the day of the World Cup final.

Rather than being jaded by what they were watching from Russia, US fans were energized by the World Cup, but for many, the MLS was as attractive an option to feed their habit.

This feels like a trend rooted in satisfaction, or a lack thereof — it is likely that US fans have grown tired of being taken advantage of.

The cheapest available general sale ticket for the game between Bayern Munich and Man City was US$78, once admin fees were factored in. In contrast, tickets for an Atlanta game can be bought for as little as US$38 on resale sites.

While fans might not be able to see Lionel Messi and Paul Pogba in the MLS, they will get a decent quality, meaningful game played in front of passionate fans.

This summer might have marked something of a watershed in the development of the ICC.

It is possible that appearance fees could be tailored depending on achievement, awarding a higher fee for those who do well in the competition, but would that be enough for teams to take the ICC seriously?

Clubs are most likely happy with the tournament the way it is.

Managers would certainly not welcome the pressure of yet another top-level competition. Pre-season affords them some rare time with their players away from the glare of the regular season, when a firing can be just a few bad results away. It is a time for the introduction of new signings, the testing of formations and the blooding of youngsters.

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