This summer has been another win for soccer in the United States, but should we be surprised?
It seems that every summer in the United States is now positioned as “the summer of soccer,” and this year’s edition was no exception as many of the best clubs from around the world descended on the United States. Plus, there was the CONCACAF Gold Cup as well as domestic club soccer to keep everyone busy during the hot summer months.
But while soccer was the big winner in the United States this summer, Major League Soccer and the Gold Cup were completely overshadowed by the most successful International Champions Cup in the five-year history of the tournament.
The International Champions Cup set soccer attendance records in New Jersey and Tennessee to combine with the records it has already set in Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota. This year’s tournament featured five sellouts with nearly 700,000 fans in attendance across the 12 matches taking place in the United States. In total, the International Champions Cup averaged 56,950 fans per game.
Last week was a particularly rough one for MLS as they came under fire after both the MP & Silva revelation of the $4 billion TV rights offer as well as the International Champions Cup, which “stole” the headlines. Everyone’s focus seemed to be on Barcelona, in particular, who were in the middle of the biggest transfer story this summer as well as completely outshining Real Madrid in el Clásico Miami as well as winning the International Champions Cup. Real Madrid, without Cristiano Ronaldo, looked a pale shadow of themselves.
And it wasn’t just the transfer headlines and big names that outshined MLS and the Gold Cup. The quality level played by the teams in the International Champions Cup combined with the competitiveness displayed on the pitch far exceeded anything we’ve seen in the Gold Cup or MLS.
The fact of the matter is that MLS and one of the worst Gold Cup tournaments in memory weren’t able to compete with the International Champions Cup. The level of play in ICC was far better. The attendances were greater, and the level of interest among the media was off the charts.
Take last Wednesday night, for example. The International Champions Cup had a tripleheader of games on the same night as the Gold Cup final. The teams featured were Barcelona-Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain versus Juventus, and Manchester City against Real Madrid. The attendances for these games were 80,162 in Maryland, 44,444 in Miami and 93,098 in Los Angeles. In contrast, MLS’s record attendance for a regular season game is 69,000 — and that was from 21 years ago, during the league’s first-ever season. So far this season, MLS is averaging a reported attendance of 21,562.
While it was no shock that Saturday night’s el Clásico Miami between Barcelona and Real Madrid was the main attraction of the tournament, the most surprising aspect was ESPN’s wall-to-wall coverage on Sportscenter. On Friday night, ESPN spent two hours of Sportscenter focused exclusively on broadcasting the training sessions for both teams combined with analysis as well as interviews with NBA and NFL stars who are soccer fans. Then, for the game itself on Saturday night, all three major ESPN networks (ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes) simulcasted the game into millions of homes across the United States.