What Impact did Premier League Clubs Have in North America This Summer?

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Most Premier League clubs often travel to Asia for their preseason tours, except this summer where North America was graced by the presence of four Premiership teams: Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers.

But when you evaluate each of the team’s tours to this side of the Atlantic, would you consider them a success or not? Success could be construed as not only how well they played on the pitch, but it’s also important to evaluate how the team did from a marketing and financial aspect.

So let’s look at each how club did.

A Tale Of Two Cities
The gulf in talent between Manchester City and Manchester United’s during their preseason tours in North America was alarming. Manchester United’s mostly B-team played with a hunger and level of skill that was encouraging to see. Tom Cleverley, Javier Hernandez, Darron Gibson and Federico Macheda all were impressive on this tour. Chris Smalling seems to be improving each game he plays. And Manchester United veterans Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Wes Brown, John O’Shea and others look like they’re up for another season.

On the pitch, it was quite a success for Manchester United. The team is playing with a confidence and swagger that I haven’t seen in quite some time. Plus, the speed of their attacks have been helped greatly by Hernandez and Danny Welbeck. Even Berbatov looks reinvigorated and ready to score more goals.

In contrast, Manchester City – for the most part – looked like a shambles. The team is playing in a funk and players look disinterested, unmotivated and very tired. With City there wasn’t the pace in their attack that we saw from United. Yes, City was missing Carlos Tevez who still hasn’t returned from World Cup duty. But, to be fair, Manchester United was missing Wayne Rooney.

Looking at this City side, it seems that they’re all thinking they may be getting the sack soon so why bother playing well. The team is still a shambles in defense. And the midfielders and forwards are not creating enough chances in front of goal. While City defeated Portland Timbers and Club America on this tour, the club played with so much apathy especially during the New York Football Challenge where they lost against New York Red Bulls and Sporting Lisbon. Yes, these are friendly tournaments that don’t mean a lot, but based on Manchester City’s performances during that weekend and their weak display against Inter Milan a few days ago, this is a team in need of a massive overhaul in the next two weeks if it’s prepared to mount a half-decent season.

Off the pitch, Manchester United’s tour was a crowning achievement. Their tour started off with a crowd of almost 40,000 in Toronto for a game against Celtic. The attendance would have been higher if the exorbitant tickets prices of $75 to $165 had been lower, but it was still an impressive turnout considering the prices. United’s tour continued in Philadelphia, Kansas City, Houston and Guadalajara in front of packed stadiums. United also managed to train in Chicago. Overall, United’s tour was a financial and marketing success.

For City, it was more difficult to ascertain whether their tour can be considered a success. Off the pitch, it definitely wasn’t. The club will have won very few new fans based on how they played. And in the games where they did play, the club had a tough time attracting large crowds. Their opening game against Portland was played in a tiny stadium with tickets only available to Timbers season ticket holders. But City’s games in New York, Atlanta and Baltimore had many empty seats. In all three of those cities, the opposition teams easily outnumbered the City supporters.

It’s very evident that Manchester City doesn’t have much of a following outside of the expat crowd in the United States. However, this tour could have been so much more successful for City on and off the pitch if they had at least tried to play with more passion. Soccer fans in the United States will not hand over their support cart blanche to a club. They need to feel inspired. And Manchester City was definitely lacking in the inspiration department on this tour. From a marketing perspective, they made all the right moves. But on the pitch, where it matters most, they played as if they didn’t really care.

When The Spurs Go Marching In
Tottenham Hotspur played in front of the same sparse crowds that City did in the New York Football Challenge, but the big difference was that Tottenham played with a lot more determination and creativity than City. While Spurs didn’t win the friendly tournament in New York, Robbie Keane did pick up the honors as best player of the tournament. And there were plenty of glimmers of brilliance from some of the Tottenham youngsters including Andros Townsend and Jonathan Obika.

Based on their enthusiastic performances, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tottenham will have won over some new fans either in New York or in California where Spurs played in an entertaining friendly against San Jose Earthquakes.

Tottenham will definitely be a club that will be welcomed back to the States. And presumably they benefited from the tour in both financial and marketing aspects.

There has been talk about the Barclay’s Challenge returning to the United States next summer, so it’s quite possible that Tottenham may be interested in returning to our shores.

Wanderers Came Home Champions
The tour among Premier League clubs in North America that went most under the radar was Bolton Wanderers who played friendlies in the Carolinas and Canada. And, you may have missed it, but Bolton Wanderers won the 2010 Carlsberg Cup after they beat Toronto FC on penalties in Canada.

Earlier in their tour, Bolton beat Charlotte Eagles in a friendly and also defeated Charleston Battery. The Trotters ended up going home undefeated on their North American tour, albeit against lesser opposition than the teams that the other Premier League sides faced.

As for financial and marketing gains, I don’t think either of  those were high on the list for Bolton. It was more of an opportunity for their players to get much-needed practice and a change of scenery before the 2010-11 Premier League season begins. No disrespect to Bolton, but they’re a much smaller club who are unable to draw large attendances wherever they go. They have a hard enough time trying to fill the seats at the Reebok Stadium than to worry about building an international brand overseas.

It’ll be interesting to see how many Premier League clubs come to the United States on tour during the summer of 2011. The club that seemingly everyone wants to see Stateside is Arsenal, but Arsene Wenger stubbornly refuses to bring his team here. But for clubs such as Spurs and Manchester City, their 2010 North America tours show that success isn’t built overnight and that it takes a lot of marketing investment and star players to attract large attendances. It also takes a team that is willing to play to win rather than just showing up and going through the motions, as Manchester City did far too often on this tour.

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