The last few months have been a smorgasbord of soccer for fans in the USA. Multiple competitions and friendly events have taken place across the country, featuring national teams, domestic clubs, and huge names from Europe. But, based on our reporting, what was it about European friendlies to be the most popular this summer based on record attendances?

The lineup of events

The summer was headlined by two official competitions: the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the revamped Leagues Cup. The biennial international championship for the continent saw Mexico win their ninth title. And Leagues Cup, featuring every MLS and Liga MX team, has been highlighted by the debut of Lionel Messi.

Meanwhile, two high-profile friendly competitions brought big teams from England, Spain, and Italy stateside. The Soccer Champions Tour and Premier League Summer Series each pulled in big crowds in late July and early August.

Which event was the most popular with fans? Let’s take a look:

2023 summer soccer attendance
EventAverage AttendanceAverage Capacity Filled
Gold Cup32,72877%
Leagues Cup17,67875%
PL Summer Series44,14774%
Soccer Champions Tour58,87187%

The Gold Cup was the only event that featured international teams. But national pride wasn’t enough to make it the top draw of the summer. While it did draw over 1 million total fans, by far the most of any of the four events, the average was third best. Of course, having Mexico participate always helps bolster attendance. El Tri drew the top four crowds of the entire tournament – each over 60,000 fans. Meanwhile, the USMNT pulled 40,000 fans in Charlotte against Jamaica for their biggest turnout.

The Leagues Cup group stage had the least average attendance. However this tournament was played entirely in MLS venues, most of which are smaller capacity. That being said, even with smaller stadiums, total capacity was not reached in most games. Even with the hysteria of Messi’s arrival in south Florida, Inter Miami actually failed to sellout (albeit by a few hundred seats) a relatively small stadium in just his second ever game. Eight games pulled 10,000 or fewer fans, including a pair of sub-1,000 crowds that really dragged the overall average down.

European friendlies came out on top

Having nothing official on the line didn’t matter to fans, as seeing big clubs from Europe in person turned out to be a bigger attraction.

The Premier League Summer Series had the direct backing of the English league, and the advantage of the associated branding. The keystone club of the event was Chelsea, headlining the group of participants and lifting ticket sales. The Blues were easily the biggest attraction, and helped make the Premier League Summer Series the second biggest draw out of the four events.

Meanwhile, the Soccer Champions Tour delivered on big ticket clubs, which in turn delivered big ticket sales. Arsenal, Manchester United, Juventus, AC Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona were the impressive lineup of teams. An average of nearly 60,000 fans per game (kept from eclipsing that lofty number only by a low turnout for Milan-Juventus at the LA Galaxy’s stadium and the cancellation of Juventus-Barcelona) turned out across the event. The high water mark for the event, and summer overall, was the record El Clásico clash between Madrid and Barcelona in Dallas which drew 82,026 fans.

As it turns out, neither the continental championship nor a re-worked and much-hyped cross-border club tournament could match the allure of seeing some of the biggest clubs in the world.

Even if it’s just preseason training for the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United, nothing piques the interest of the American soccer fan quite like seeing the best in the world up close and in person.

Photo: Imago.