There’s no getting around it, Arsenal are one of the most popular sports teams on the planet.
Not only does Arsene Wenger’s side fill the Emirates Stadium with 60,000 spectators every other week, but the North London outfit boasts 26.6 million likes on Facebook and 4.1 million followers on Twitter. Their identity is rife, their reputation is stellar and they’re supremely well established across the world.
The Gunners are a slick global enterprise and have a holistic model in place that the vast majority of teams envy. So all things considered, it’s a surprise that their links with the United States are somewhat scarce. Unlike a host of popular Premier League clubs — who have associations with the States due to players, owners and pre-season tours Arsenal don’t really have these kinds of links in place.
After all, the last American to don Arsenal red was Daniel Karbassiyoon, although he never actually made an appearance in the Premier League.
Nonetheless, the Gunners have an enormous fan base in the United States. I spoke to Rick Breese from the Arsenal America supporters club, and even though the links between club and the country are tenuous ones, he confirmed that there are a myriad reasons as to why Americans choose the Gunners as their Premier League team.
“It could be from Denis Bergkamp’s goal against Argentina for Holland in the 1998 World Cup, the colors of the club, family links historically to North London or even being one of the first teams to come up on video game menus!
“Whatever the reason it is obvious that Arsenal Football Club have huge support here and with the Branch set up that we have (now having Official Branches in 60 cities) this will only grow.”
A lucky selection of those supporters will get to see their team play first hand this summer, as the 2014 FA Cup winners take on former skipper Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls in a pre-season friendly. Somewhat remarkably, this will be Arsenal’s first match in the States for 25 years and supporters from across the pond will undoubtedly relish the chance to see their heroes in the flesh.
I asked Rick why he feels that the Gunners have avoided tapping into the American market while a host of the Premier League’s elite have looked to embrace it. He cited Wenger’s preference for a pre-season training camp in Austria as the primary reason.
But it’s also worth considering the club’s strong relationship with Emirates. The influence of the club sponsors has resulted in the concoction of the Emirates Cup — a pre-season tournament hosted at Arsenal’s stadium — and a subsequent push towards pre-season tours in Asia instead of Australia or America.
The club do seem to be catching on to the fact that there is a burgeoning fan base across the pond though, and for American Gunners, hopefully this clash with the Red Bulls will be the first of many pre-season jaunts stateside
You would certainly like think so, especially when you consider that the club’s majority shareholder is now Stan Kroenke, a man all too familiar with the financial benefits of enticiing American fandom. The club have also launched an initiative in the States dubbed ”Arsenal Soccer Schools”, a program geared towards teaching young soccer players in the USA to play the “Arsenal Way”.