Friday, August 8, 2014

Full 90: International Champions Cup is Champion

After a widely popular Guinness International Champions Cup, Relevent Sports plans to expand the North American tournament to Asia next year. The North American tournament will maintain the same format of eight teams, while the Asian tournament will feature four or six teams. While he International Champions Cup is essentially a friendly campaign, hosting dual international tournaments will be a profound step if it permits MLS teams to face-off and gain global exposure alongside the mega-clubs of Europe and the rest of the world.

This year’s Guinness International Champions Cup aggregated a total of 642,224 fans spanning the 13 matches played. The tournament began on July 24th and ended on August 4th. These attendance figures are up 30% from last years, although last year’s tournament contained one less match played. No doubt did the World Cup hangover fuel increased viewership, but also the monumental European transfer window surely played a part in the tournament’s interest. The top attended match featured Manchester United vs. Real Madrid at Michigan’s Big House, accumulating 109,318 attendees, a record for a soccer match on U.S. soil.  Manchester United took home this year’s Champions Cup title after a victory over Liverpool FC in front of 51,104 fans. Adding to the appeal of the 2014 Champions Cup was the fact that matches were played in 13 different stadiums while last year’s Cup spanned only 7 unique venues.

The debate remains whether or not these friendly-formatted tournaments are worthwhile for upper echelon clubs. Many believe friendlies such as the Champions Cup is a way for European powerhouses to collect a purse while vacationing to the United States. Others contest this tournament is a legitimate pre-season test for such clubs.

Leading up to the Champions Cup, the eight clubs that partook in the tournament competed in friendlies versus MLS sides. However, in the two-year history only one MLS squad, the LA Galaxy, were worthy of selection into the Champions Cup. In order for Major League Soccer to capitalize on the Champions Cup, which is being played right in front of its eyes, the league ought to make sure a handful of MLS clubs are selected for next year's edition.

I believe that tournaments such as the International Champions Cup are vital to the continued growth of Major League Soccer. It’s obvious this tournament is so popular because it gives soccer fans living in the United States and Canada the opportunity to drool while watching world-class clubs up close. Through the inclusion of more MLS clubs, the Champions Cup has the ability to align North American European soccer fans with their respective home-grown league- the MLS.

For these European clubs, they view the Champions Cup as much a global marketing tool as a competitive tune-up for their club campaigns, which are set to begin in the coming weeks. My recommendation for next year's Cup is to incorporate several MLS clubs in both the North American and Asian legs. This would be a groundbreaking effort by Major League Soccer to explore new markets such as Australia and Asia in order to develop fan bases abroad.

Anticipate the Champions Cup, along with similar-styled tournaments, to blossom in the coming years, so long as the matches remain competitive and fans remain interested.  


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