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”.
In addition, if exciting academy prospect Gedion Zelalem were to choose to represent the USA over Germany, it would also help spike interest levels across the States. He looks a fine young talent and stylistically is the type of player that would engross soccer fanatics from the United States.
But even though Arsenal haven’t set foot on America soil for a quarter of a century, the club are extremely appreciative of their backing from their fan base in the States.
“The Club have been fantastic in the tour to New York and the events surrounding it” explained Rick. “I have been in constant contact with the Club’s Event Manager who has helped us set up a great event where players, the FA Cup and Thierry Henry will all be in attendance for our members.”
The links between Arsenal and the States remain in their infancy when compared to a host of Premier League teams. And the support for the Gunners in America shows no signs of tailing off. And as Rick provided me with an insight into Arsenal America’s match day routines, it’s easy to see why.
“Many of the bars that we have listed as Arsenal Viewing Bars open early for us and do special breakfasts for our supporters,” he explained.
“It starts a community feel so people can come to the pub, have breakfast with friends and watch the game and still have the whole day afterwards! Beer and breakfast together is fast becoming the new brunch”
For a well-run, forward-thinking, all-encompassing club, Arsenal will surely realize that it would be to their enormous benefit to make these pre-season visits a much more regular occurrence. The major upside of that, of course, is that it would give their expanding American fan base a much more frequent sighting of the Gunners.
Rick thinks that more clashes like the one against Red Bulls could be the catalyst for the club tapping into their enormous fan base in the States.
“Support in the USA starts from the local level ground up. That is why we have been very successful in having so many branches. Continuing to work alongside us, understanding that the support here has so much room for growth and then having events in different parts of the country would greatly increase the support here.”
And for those of you looking to get into the Premier League in 2014/15 for the first time, why not get behind a side Rick — naturally — describes as “the greatest” on the planet?
He also added that “the style of play and the ease of which it is to get involved with us as a community across the whole country” would also make Arsenal a superb choice for those looking to indulge in the Premier League for the first time this season.
Read other interviews with Premier League supporters clubs in the United States including One United USA and Everton USA. If you’d like your supporters group to be interviewed by World Soccer Talk, please email [email protected] with your contact details.