On paper, Manchester City and Bayern Munich are two of the biggest clubs in club soccer. One is a reigning Premier League champion as well as one of the most exciting, attacking teams on the planet. The other is the biggest and most successful club in Germany.
In reality, neither club is heavily supported in the United States. Their fanbases are dwarfed by bigger clubs in the United States such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and others. That’s not an indictment on City or Bayern. It’s just that it takes decades to grow a fanbase to be anywhere near the numbers of the seven aforementioned teams.
A good example of the work that City and Bayern need to do was evidenced at the International Champions Cup game featuring the two teams in Miami on Saturday night. In front of an attendance of 29,195 — an estimated 80% of which were Bayern supporters — the crowd was still far smaller than you’d expect for two soccer powerhouses.
Before you blame the lack of quality talent on display, the players on the pitch included Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Rafinha, Kingsley Coman and Sandro Wagner, among others.
And don’t blame Miami. Tuesday’s match between Real Madrid and Manchester United is already expected to bring in a massive crowd to the same stadium where Bayern-City played to the 2-3 result.
With Bayern Munich and Manchester City, it is what it is. And it isn’t from a lack of effort. Both City and Bayern have been two of the more progressive clubs when it comes to promoting their clubs across social media and the Internet. But right now, both clubs aren’t big enough in the United States to fill a 65,000-seat stadium. The clubs are better suited for a stadium similar to Red Bull Arena that seats 25,000.
If cultivating a sports audience was as simple as having the best team, success would happen overnight. But growing a fanbase is an experience that can take months or years of numerous touch points across television, social media, the Internet or — in the case of the International Champions Cup — matches in front of tens of thousands of potential new fans.
That’s the beauty of the International Champions Cup. It’s a built-in way to grow a fanbase in the United States. With games being played across the United States, it’s an opportunity for clubs to get as close and personal as possible to soccer fans. It’s not about winning games, although that helps. It’s about building a brand, growing an audience and making a connection.
Support local soccer
From soccer fans across the United States, the battle cry is to “support local soccer.” That’s fine if you’re fortunate to have a MLS franchise local to you. But what about everyone else including soccer fans in South Florida?
Even though Manchester City and Bayern Munich are based five thousand miles away from Miami, these two clubs are making the effort, more-so than Major League Soccer clubs who are based in the United States. For example, take Real Madrid. In the last five years, Los Blancos has played three times in South Florida. That’s three times more than any Major League Soccer team have played in South Florida. You could argue that Real Madrid are more local to Miami than any MLS club is to Miami.
The same can be said for countless cities across the United States where teams from overseas have made repeated trips to U.S. cities to entertain local soccer fans. For MLS, perhaps building a fanbase outside of their own local market isn’t a priority? But it should be.
For Bayern Munich and Manchester City, the more the clubs put into the International Champions Cup, the more they’ll get back.
The same goes for other clubs from around the world wanting to become more popular in the United States.