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How an EPL Club Can Conquer America In 7 Easy Steps

wide awake in america u2 How an EPL Club Can Conquer America In 7 Easy Steps

There is talk that Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur could be playing friendlies in the United States this summer. It’s music to my ears and I’m sure many other soccer fans in America. But while teams in the past such as Chelsea, Everton and others have tried to conquer the States, they all have come up short so far and haven’t maximized the level of success that’s possible.

When you think about it, which Premier League club is America’s team? There are large numbers of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal fans. And definitely sizable numbers of Tottenham, Chelsea and Leeds United supporters. But no one team has blown the roof off America. All of the above teams have medium to high levels of support, but none of them can claim to be “America’s team.”

The closest you’ll find to “America’s team,” not in the number of supporters but in how loyal their fans are despite being smaller clubs, are Fulham and Everton. But even they haven’t been able to figure out the secret to success in breaking wide open in America.

So, here’s my blueprint for Premier League teams if they want to conquer America:

  1. Sign top American talent. There are large numbers of soccer fans in the United States who haven’t picked a Premier League team to follow yet. Or, if they have, their loyalty to that team can easily change if another team became more attractive for particular reasons. For Premier League clubs trying to break through in America, it’s imperative that these clubs have one or more Americans on their team.While Chelsea has had massive crowds come out to their games in the States, they would have been more popular if they had an American in their squad. As an example, remember how much Oguchi Onyewu was cheered when he was substituted on for AC Milan last summer and how loud the crowd was whenever he touched the ball. Also take note of the attention that Everton has achieved because of Landon Donovan’s loan deal at the club. Last but not least, consider how much impact an American has when he achieves something wonderful in England. While not everyone is a Fulham supporter, you only had to browse the message forums and blogs to see what impact Clint Dempsey’s wondergoal against Juventus had on soccer fans in the U.S.A. last week.
  2. Play top American talent. It’s one thing to sign American players, but it’s another thing to play them quite often. This definitely is dependent on the American player — to make sure that he deserves to be playing when he’s on form — but it’s also very dependent on a manager who is open to American players. For example, former Fulham manager Lawrie Sanchez seemed reluctant to play Americans who were at Craven Cottage during his short stay there.
  3. Play attractive free-flowing soccer. When Wigan Athletic played their first season in the Premier League during 2005-06, they won over large amounts of American fans because of their attacking style of football that continually put opponents on the back foot. The underdog angle was also a big reason why Wigan won over a lot of American fans that season. For the most part, Americans want to see entertaining soccer and lots of goals. Catenaccio is not something most Americans enjoy.
  4. Tour the North American cities that will make a difference. Too often in the past, Premier League clubs have toured America but played in the wrong cities. When a club has an opportunity to play 3-4 games, it needs to make sure that it maximizes the impact of playing in those cities. Take Everton, for example. In recent years, they’ve played in North American cities including Salt Lake City (in the horrid Rice-Eccles Stadium), Edmonton and at the Home Depot Center for a low-key friendly in front of 100 spectators. To me, those opportunities were wasted. Although, to be fair, the club is not as big as it is now that Donovan played for them. But whether it’s Everton or any other Premier League club, the cities the club plays in is vital. New York, Los Angeles and Seattle are now must-visits. Chicago and Toronto are included in the next wave.
  5. Don’t expect overnight success. Too many Premier League clubs expect overnight success in the United States. It takes hard work and persistence as well as tours over a few summers before a team can unlock the success in this country. Chelsea is going about it the right way by playing in the States every couple of seasons. Manchester United and Liverpool haven’t played here in years but may expect overnight success when it isn’t possible.
  6. Hire a US media specialist. Unless you’re Garry Cook and you know how different the US media is, it’s vital that Premier League clubs hire expert PR specialists to make sure the media experience in the States is different than the UK. The US media expects to get more access to players than the UK media. Interviews are crucial and it’s vital that clubs make players available to the media such as radio, local television and the press so they can help sell the game to the general public. If Premier League clubs act like they do in the UK, they’ll have a tough time winning over the media.
  7. Keep the United States in your plans all year long. When a tour of the United States is over, Premier League clubs return to England and focus on their season but they often don’t think about the States anymore until the following summer. But for soccer fans in the States, they eat, live and breathe soccer 365 days a year. Even during the season, Premier League clubs need to do a better job at marketing themselves and communicating with their soccer audience in the States (and other countries) by conducting interviews with key media outlets rather than completely ignoring them.

If Premier League clubs are truly committed to becoming popular in the United States, they need to focus on these seven easy steps and I’m confident it will happen. The struggle thus far has been that teams have only done some but not all of the steps.

Manchester City has taken it one step further by having talks with MLS commissioner Don Garber regarding starting its own MLS franchise in America. I honestly don’t think that’s the solution to being successful in the States since EPL clubs are on television more often than MLS ones are. But if you have a ton of money to spend, it can’t do any harm.

About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

44 Responses to How an EPL Club Can Conquer America In 7 Easy Steps

  1. dan says:

    “”The US media expects to get more access to players than the UK media.””

    hahahaha, so, so, so wrong.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Dan, why is that so wrong? Tell us why you disagree.

      From my personal experience having worked with PR companies in both the US and UK, as well as interviewing athletes in the UK and US, US athletes are more open to giving interviews and understanding how things will help the team. In the UK, many of the athletes don’t give interviews that often and when they do, they’re not excited about it and don’t really say a lot.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  2. Jesse says:

    When I watched the Arsenal v West Ham match this weekend I noticed an advertising board promoting their online shop specifically for the USA.

    This interested me because it was the first time I had noticed a club reaching out to the States during a match.

    We’ve all seen USA specific websites, e-stores and the like outside of gameday, but the fact that Arsenal chose to advertise that site during the opening moments of the match leads me to think they’re serious about the potential in the States.

  3. BBC says:

    . . . .Make sure ManU v. Liverpool is on FSC and not FSC plus

  4. The Gentleman Masher says:

    “New York, Los Angeles and Seattle are now must-visits. Chicago and Toronto are included in the next wave.”

    I see – so, to win over AMERICAN soccer fans, the big English clubs should play in Canada?

    Playing in the bigger cities is a great idea…but I think most importantly, you need to have good coverage of the entire, albeit very large, country. Play games is Los Angeles, NYC, Seattle, Houston, Chicago, and Atlanta…for example…hit a major city in each region. Too often these clubs come here, play a game Philly, one in DC, and one in NYC, and the rest of the nation yawns.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Gentleman Masher, I jumped back and forth a couple of times in the article between the States and North America. If Premier League clubs want to win over North America, Toronto should be part of their plans. Liverpool got massive crowds the last time they played there.

      If the Premier League clubs want to conquer the States, then they should skip Canada.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • Patrick says:

        I’ll comment more later when I have more time but:
        If you were to skip over Toronto you would be cutting out a group of supporters that is amongst the most loyal in the MLS. You can’t skip over loyalty like that for “bigger markets”. It would help the US and MLS more than anything having EPL teams play some of MLS’s most popular teams with strong support. By doing this it almost makes support viral..I know last summer when they had exibition games it made me want to like the MLS teams more..
        If you go to big citys just because the size of the market rather than the substance in the long run you run a risk of selling yourself short.

    • Jeremy says:

      “Too often these clubs come here, play a game Philly, one in DC, and one in NYC, and the rest of the nation yawns.”

      - that’s exactly what Valencia is planning this August- actually Philly, DC, and New England

    • Charlie says:

      I wish St. Louis could get into these discussions. We might not be the biggest city but I feel like the support for soccer in this city would be as high as any.

  5. Kevin says:

    I’ve seen it said on this site so many times that there aren’t as many Chelsea supporters in the US as the rest of the big three, and everywhere I go, I see this contradicted. I see more Chelsea fans than Liverpool fans, and at least as many as Arsenal fans.

    • Eladio says:

      Kevin, I kind of agree. If you polled US soccer fans who their favorite English team was, I think that Arsenal & Man U would come out on top; but also because there are a ton of casual fans for both clubs over here. Chelsea fans in the states, meanwhile, seem to be very dedicated, and I see the same thing when I go out: there seems to be a higher % of hard-core Chelsea fans in the states than the other 2. Just my opinion based on limited data.

  6. jleau says:

    The EPL or it’s clubs should invest in MLS. To win over Americans, soccer needs to be more relevant. Improving the quality and acceptance of MLS would go along way to creating more fans. Americans fans will be interested in the best league as soon as they are interested in soccer.

    • Jonathan says:

      some MLS clubs do have partners, I know Arsenal for one is partners with the Colorado Rapids. the rapids recently went over to london to train with AFC and played a friendly against the reserves. I’m not sure what other MLS teams have partners with the EPL, some may even have deals with la liga, serie a, mexican league etc.

  7. Raatzie says:

    Who wants an “America’s team”? Part of the charm for me was the chance to make a conscious choice, whereas in American football and baseball my location resulted in my being tied to the Philadelphia franchises from an early age.

    I see no contradiction in supporting Liverpool while also rooting for Dempsey, Donovan, Altidore, Howard, Friedel, etc. – except, of course, when they’re playing Liverpool. Watching Dempsey’s goal last week, or Goodison crowds cheering “USA” for Donovan, is almost as exciting for me as the (very limited) success Liverpool has had this year.

    And the more Prem teams playing exhibitions over here, the better. I wish Liverpool were one of them, but they’ve chosen to instead focus on the Asian market. I won’t be getting to England for a match any time soon, so I’ll go see any club that chooses to play in Philly because it’ll be my first taste of the live experience. And if a Prem club’s presence over here results in some converts, that’s great.

    But no “America’s team”, please.

  8. M Emanuel says:

    If I could, I’d also add one other step to the list – get involved with youth soccer here in the States. I think one way to grow the sport here is to start with the youth, many of whom are already playing the sport. If it were possible to really expose younger players here to what soccer means globally, as those youth grow into adulthood, it may lead to a longer and sustained interest in the sport. An added benefit would be the push for parents to take their children to see the friendlies and other matches that you mentioned in your article.

    I would guess (although without empirical evidence directly to this point) that soccer is as frequently played by youth organizations here in the states as football, baseball, and basketball, or at least fairly close, so why not attempt to capitalize on that. Who knows, maybe exposure to the stars of EPL would influence a child to replace a Lebron James poster on a his or her wall with a Wayne Rooney poster.

    One very real way for an EPL club to get involved in the States would be to set up a youth soccer facility or the like here in the States and send over some of the talented members of their organizations and maybe a few stars to participate. Again, I think if you capture a young mind, you may in fact win over a fan for life, the same way I remember becoming hooked on basketball as a child in part because of watching Michael Jordan. I don’t see why EPL clubs couldn’t do the same in connection with their other stateside efforts.

  9. JT says:

    It is mind-blowing that any American would support Chelsea after the stunt Lampard and Terry pulled immediately after 9-11.

    • Nick says:

      I hope to attend my first match this summer in Philly. I’m a casual EPL fan and usually cheer for whatever team features an American on FSC’s matchday.

      P.S. What stunt did Lampard & Terry pull after 911? Just curious……..

      • SeminoleGunner says:

        I’ve never read an account of it that sounded very definitive, but what I’ve heard is they were at an airport bar on 9/11 and were drinking and making a scene while American travelers were watching coverage of 9/11 on TV.

        I don’t know if it is true or not.

  10. drew says:

    The easiest way for an EPL team to win over Americans is to be on TV the most. That is the only way the premiere league is accessible to American fans and it would be the most effective. If any team were to buy the rights to all of there televised games and then put all of the games live somewhere on TV it would give Americans a team to watch week in and week out. I’m sure there are some technicalities with broadcasting rights and such but that would be the most clear cut way to reach the most people and therefore gain the largest fanbase.

  11. Jake Islas says:

    Gaffer, I really like the idea of the article, and EPL clubs can definitely profit from making the league more popular in the US, but I disagree with the first two points. Top clubs are looking to win trophies and play in Europe, they’re not going to sign and play Americans just to please US fans. The players have to be good enough to deserve a spot on the pitch, and right now I don’t think the talent is there. Donovan won’t step out of his MLS comfort zone (as of now) for a permanent move and he’s supposedly our “top talent”(although I think Dempsey and Howard are better). Aside from Howard, who I would like to see in goal for Arsenal (all the other big 4 teams have top class keepers), the US doesn’t have another player good enough to play consistently on a top side, although Dempsey is getting there. So until we produce better talent, clubs will not sign our players let alone play them.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Hi Jake, Premier League club priorities should not be to buy and play Americans. But if they have everything else taken care of in terms of the priorities in the right place (qualifying for Europe, winning the Premier League, etc), and if they’re interested in winning over America, then the 7 steps above are highly recommended.

      Cheers
      The Gaffer

  12. Jious says:

    The playing a free flowing comment is a joke. People want winners. If a team wins, people will flock to it.

    People flocked to Jose at Chelsea, why? Because they won games even with their defensive primary first.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Jious, I disagree with you on this one. Everyone loves a winner, but not everyone loves a winner who does it in a boring fashion. Arsenal was famous for 1-0 wins during George Graham’s time as manager there, but the attractive free-flowing Arsenal of today is far more popular than the one-nil to the Arsenal style of Graham, no matter how more effective it was in winning trophies.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • bluefugue says:

        there is such a thing as beautiful defensive football as well. just because it’s defensive doesn’t mean it’s boring but yes graham’s arsenal was boring unless you were a gooner

  13. Cricketlover says:

    I agree with all 7 points made by the Gaffer. What I’m really puzzled about is that Manchester United, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Arsenal all have American owners in full or in part yet I’ve seen no effort by those teams to make any major effort to tap into the North American market. One would think that those teams in particular would recognize the potential.

  14. Taylor says:

    Great beginning to the discussion! I was an Arsenal fan because I saw them in Highbury when I was 15, but now I’m a diehard Aston Villa fan. For one, they have an American owner, two American goalkeepers, and there’s a story about an Aston Villa coffee mug and a girl. Would love to see them come over here.

    Just want to talk about the touring part of the equation (asking why we follow who we do is like asking why we love who we do.)

    Allegiances for the casual American fan are built through a want, a desire, and return visits.

    You should give Chelsea more credit. They’ve made a commitment to coming over here and playing in packed stadiums while the other EPL teams go east and play in vacant stadiums even though the conventional wisdom says playing east brings in more money.

    They key is persistence. Chelsea will gain dividends from regularly coming over here. The teams like West Ham who are one visit and done are soon forgotten, but the teams that make the return trip are rewarded. Every time Chelsea visits, you see more jerseys. I’ll never forget seeing them with Jerry Jones – the small things build loyalty. A Dad taking his son or daughter to the game. Two buddies who didn’t have any other sporting event to go to picking up a couple of tickets.

    Chelsea is laying a foundation, building an American fan base. The other teams would do well to follow their lead.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Taylor, out of all of the teams that have tried to conquer America, Chelsea has done the best job but I’ve been disappointed that they haven’t signed an American player. Not that they have to, but it would help them achieve greater success in America in a much sooner. The problem is that managers need to pick players based on their skill, not their nationality. And which American, other than Landon Donovan, would walk on to a Chelsea side and play week-in week-out?

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  15. leeboy says:

    There are more important things for clubs than acquiring an American fanbase! The concept of an Americas team is moronic. Teams will buy the best players they can regardless of nationality. Enjoy the league for what it is – dont expect it to adapt for TV audiences in one country

  16. leeboy says:

    @ Nick
    On the day after 9/11 Terry, as well
    as teammates Frank Lampard, and
    Jody Morris, were fined by Chelsea
    for going on a five-hour drinking
    binge which resulted in them
    stripping off, swearing and
    vomiting, in a hotel packed with
    American tourists the day after the
    September 11th attacks on the world
    trade center and pentagon. Terry was accused of
    making some pretty pathetic
    comments to these American tourists
    regarding the attacks the day before
    on 9/11.

  17. Taylor says:

    Gaffer,

    I agree it would help them greatly if they signed an American, but right now we have a limited base. I would love to see Clint Dempsey there. Or Landon Donovan, but the market is what it is. American players right now are the diamonds in the rough. It’s like NBA teams trying to find European players. Some (Dirk Nowitzki) are great. Some (Darkovic) flame out. What I love about Martin O’Neil or David Moyes is they are looking for those diamonds. Chelsea right now are the equivalent to the Yankees. They are going after superstars and won’t look at great players who fly under the radar. But, who knows, they may wake up.

  18. Cord4Gooneru says:

    I wake up early every weekend to Watch Arsenal. Either on my TV, on my Computer or at a local sports bar. The 5:30am mornings are the worst, but I don’t think I have missed a match for 5 or so years. I love when European teams visit America and especially when they visit the San Francisco area. I have seen Chelsea, Inter Milan and Barcelona when they have come to town. I don’t see Mr. Wenger bringing the boys over here anytime soon though, despite the MLS partnership with the Colorado Rapids.

  19. IanCransonsKnees says:

    Stoke City already have a US affiliated team – the Austin Aztex – http://www.austinaztex.com/home/

    They’ve been over here on tour and played against a few professional teams, taken in a couple of Stoke matches and I think a couple of players have had extended trials. From what I can gather from end it’s seen as a way to tap into a talent pool that is pretty much wide open at the minute, rather than building a foreign fan-base.

  20. Robert George says:

    What aload of rubbish. Firstly I would like to point out that you call Everton a small club. Everton are not small club. Especially when you compare us to the likes of Fulham.

    We have played more top flight football then any other team.

    Remember Everton are the only team who have broken into the big four in the premiership. We are an amazing club with an amazing history infact we have won nine league titles, five FA Cups and one European Cup Winners Cup. Only Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool can claim more.

    We are the first team to beat the MLS Allstars.

    We have a good relationship in the US just look at how many times we have had our pre season tour here.

    We managed to sign Landon Donovan on loan and you know what a great signing he was. He was an ambassador for our club in the USA. Just look at how many Americans wanted a Landon Everton shirt.

    As for an EPL team trying to conquer America. The geography of the USA is impossible for many people to go and see an EPL team play.

    Everton has links in the US with The Pittsburgh Riverhounds

    Timmy Howard plays for America. We had Landon and I hope that we sign him in the summer.

    We signed Cody Arnoux from Wake Forest University. And California side Ventura County Fusion.

    EPL is a minority sport here. Have a look at how many people watch games on ESPN2, FSC and FSC+.

    MLS isn’t that popular here.

    But please remember its the English Premier League not the NFL.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Robert, I didn’t mean to be derogatory when I said that Everton is a small club. I have a lot of affection for the club and its supporters. In comparison to a Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal, Everton is a smaller club.

      Everton has done OK in the States, but I believe they’ve underplayed their importance in this country. They should be playing in bigger cities especially now that they’ve elevated their profile because of Landon Donovan.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  21. Leeboy says:

    “Everton has done OK in the States, but I believe they’ve underplayed their importance in this country. They should be playing in bigger cities especially now that they’ve elevated their profile because of Landon Donovan”

    Why? The US is one market saturated with other sports. Surely you can see that despite its size there are easier places to go first

    • The Gaffer says:

      Leeboy, I thoroughly disagree. In the summertime, there are so many cities crying out for competitive friendlies to go watch. The only leagues happening in the summer are Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer. It’s a huge opportunity to serve up some exciting soccer with great teams such as Everton and others. The US is not saturated in the summertime.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • IanCransonsKnees says:

        The problem is you’re not going to get exciting football in friendly matches. You might see the ‘star players’ in the flesh rather than on the screen but beyond that it is little more than what you state it is, a publicity exercise.

        I think you’re chasing what I hope will happen, the Champions League sides congregating in the US as a taste of European football. When that happens hopefully they’ll set up their own permanent European league with no promotion or relegation and trot around Europe and the rest of the world in their franchise system. They’ll play beautiful passing football, with no broken legs, in front of thousands of day trippers, in a suitably stale atmosphere.

        The rest of it will enjoy the level playing field that the national leagues become and the lack of glory hunters. They being the ultimate fans will be traveling following their team from Surrey to Stockholm and Oxford to Oman.

        • The Gaffer says:

          IanCransonsKnees, I disagree. Last summer’s “World Football Challenge” in America was an incredible success and the games were highly competitive. Yes, it wasn’t as good as typical mid-season game. But most of the stars played and the level of play was far superior to a typical friendly.

          Cheers,
          The Gaffer

  22. JoeLeeds says:

    One question, why would a club want to actively seek to attract American fans? For profit is the likely answer. So they could sell their product to a new area, well that is absolutley..horrible, 40, 50 yrs ago football was about passion about loyaltey. Generations of families supported their local club, chairmen were local buisnessmen who owned a club because they wanted it to do well, not for a profit like modern day chairmen, regually players played for the same club until they retired, today were lucky to see a footballer last at one club for 5 yrs, what i am trying to say is football wasn’t about money like today it was about passion for the game that run the game back then not money like today where clubs sell television rights to the highest bidder and look for american fans so they can make money. Basicly support a club that you follow, don’t have clubs trying to get you to support them so they can make a profit. Also stop having American buisnessmen trying to buy a piece of english football, many clubs have been around since the late 19th centry, generations of families have supported it and for Americans to just come and treat it like another asset in the empire is disgusting, an english club is not a buisness it is a part of a community. People of Leeds have Leeds United, people of certain parts of Manchester (yh that’s right people in places that have multiple clubs like Manchester and Liverpool don’t just pick a club it depends on what part of the city you are from) have Manchester United and in other areas it’s Manchester City ect so for Americans and other foreign buisnessmen to come and just take it and treat it how they want (ect transfering debts) is unfair to the people of that club. And don’t just support a club because they win a lot (ike Man Utd, Chelsea ect) or play in Europe, there are tons of English clubs out there and not just Premier League ones, my club Leeds United is in the Championship (2nd tier of english football) we regually pull in 25,000+ on a saturday and sell out all our away ticket allocation that’s more than alot of Premier League clubs, and we are looking for promotion to the Premier League this season and hopefully one day return to our pastdays of European glory (Leeds have been in European Cup many times and have reached final in 1972 and semi finals in 2002 before fianicial crisis relegated us to League 1, englands 3rd tier league). Find a club you like Newcastle, West Ham, Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa whatever and support them don’t follow Man Utd or CHelsea because they have the best player and win titles because that makes you a glory supporter.

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