I would argue that no one who understands soccer thinks that Manchester United should play midweek friendlies abroad. However, as has become apparent, understanding soccer is not a prerequisite of being a club executive anymore. Before I outline why I think these friendlies are a bad idea, let me assure the reader that I am not a naïve soccer purist. I respect the need for commercial revenue and expanding the brand. I appreciate that without the promise of emerging markets, I would not have been able to watch my beloved club play in a sold-out Michigan stadium earlier this summer. I realize that without revenue money, we would not have been able to attract the likes of Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria in spite of not having Champions league football. However, I still believe that the aim for United has to be quality soccer before increased revenue. And, I assume everyone reading this will agree with that.
Let’s get to why United are considering these games at all. United would play midweek friendlies to generate the additional income that would counterbalance the missing Champions League money. With the background of Glazer’s loan and the massive transfer fees paid out this summer, money needs to be generated. The next question is, where would they go? There have been reports of friendlies against Milan and other underachieving European giants, but likely destinations would be emerging markets where European soccer is hitting the exponential phase of growth. Additionally, these markets would need to have the financial incentives of attracting United. These include a large fan base, financial capital, big stadia and advertising opportunities. Therefore, the likes of USA, China, Australia, the middle east and India are possible destinations. Based on previous pre-seasons in USA, China and Australia, Manchester United’s financial-planners will consider those countries to be exceptionally good targets for hosting friendlies. The middle-eastern countries are viable candidates based solely on their incredible capital. India, on the other hand, is the sleeping giant of soccer growth. The south-east asian country is about to unleash its own soccer league which has been modeled on the vastly successful Indian premier league (cricket). There are stadia in India like ‘Salt Lake Stadium’ in Calcutta which can hold 120,000 people. And, these stadia often sell-out for local derbies, and would have no trouble selling out for mighty Manchester United.
So, yes, playing games in other countries would undoubtedly generate some serious income through tickets and commercial activities. However, the travel involved in getting to the aforementioned countries brings us to the first reason United should not be involved with playing these revenue-generating friendlies.