The International Champions Cup began in 2013 as a way to increase the significance of European soccer clubs’ preseason tours. Relevent Sports Group transformed a handful of seemingly meaningless summer friendlies with nothing on the line into an annual competition featuring some of the game’s greatest clubs including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Paris St. Germain.
A year later, the ICC match between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Michigan Stadium set a United States soccer attendance record at 109,318. The tournament went international for the first time in 2015, featuring matches in Australia and China.
The ICC has continued to evolve and grow since its inception and Relevent CEO Daniel Sillman said the 2019 event, won by Benfica, was the “biggest and best” to date.
“Relevent Sports Group has a mission to grow soccer in North America and Asia and we feel good about what we’ve accomplished through the ICC,” Sillman said. “We feel we’ve made a lot of progress and that’s shown through TV ratings, our audience, social engagement and ticket sales globally.
“Success is building the brand of the ICC, building our connection with fans, building the experience and competition on-field with players and building a content strategy. We are really feeling sky high in terms of the success we’ve had.”
The ICC saw a drastic increase across social media channels with 147.9 million impressions (up 83%), 3.9 million engagement (up 209%) and 8.3 million video views (up 201%) through the first 15 days of this year’s tournament compared to 2018.
Average attendance for European matches more than doubled from last summer, seeing an increase from 25,592 to 58,183. Average attendance was up for matches in Asia as well, increasing from 31,803 to 44,533. Prioritizing those foreign markets with major clubs including Manchester United, Juventus, Tottenham Hotspur and Inter this year resulted in a dip in attendance in the United States, but that’s a temporary sacrifice event organizers were willing to make.
While jaw-dropping attendance figures at Michigan Stadium or the Rose Bowl have helped grow the ICC in the United States in the past, that isn’t the only metric of success (or failure). Organizers prioritized new markets and more soccer-specific venues, with matches at Dignity Health Sports Park and Children’s Mercy Park instead of the Rose Bowl and Arrowhead Stadium, respectively.
“It’s not just about going to Ohio State, Michigan, Texas and every big venue,” Sillman said. “We’re looking to grow in new soccer markets, like we did with a five-year deal with Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. We’re constantly looking to build new partnerships to grow the sport. It isn’t just about how many people we can pack into a stadium.
“We try and look at ourselves as an entertainment business and make sure we explore the entire country, if not the entire world.”
That sentiment is equally true when it comes to which clubs are involved each year. The ICC, which has been conducted with anywhere between eight and 18 clubs, featured 12 teams this summer from six countries: England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Mexico.
Highlighting clubs including Chivas Guadalajara, Fiorentina and Benfica along with the global giants remains a priority.
Chivas, one of the founding teams in Mexico’s first division, is the most popular team in the country. While their inclusion this summer might not have paid dividends in terms of ticket sales, they drew massive TV ratings: ESPN Deportes broadcasts were up 127% from 2018.
“We will continue to invest in brands like Chivas that have a significant following and are an important club in the history of the sport but might not draw as much from a U.S. ticket standpoint,” Sillman said. “This year we wanted to connect to Spanish-speaking soccer fans in America, so to see ESPN Deportes ratings up by 127% means we delivered on our goal to connect with that fan base.”
Those who tuned in or attended matches were treated to some memorable moments. Harry Kane scored from the halfway line in stoppage time as Tottenham defeated Juventus 3-2 in Singapore. João Félix and Atlético Madrid dismantled rivals Real Madrid 7-3 in New Jersey, the first Madrid Derby played outside of Europe. Eight matches were decided by one goal and five went to penalties.
“This was without a doubt our most competitive ICC,” RSG executive chairman Charlie Stillitano said. “Our tournament came down to one of our final matches and we were proud to present the ICC Trophy in Benfica before their regular-season opener.”
As for the future of the tournament, Sillman said organizers will sit down over the next month and look at all of the numbers—not just attendance in the United States—to formulate a game plan for next summer. Does the tournament continue to prioritize the international market? Do Barcelona, Manchester City and Liverpool return to the competition? How can they build off the House of Soccer event in Charlotte, which had its highest attendance to date?
“We have to look at ourselves as an entertainment company through merchandise, audience engagement, partnership, social,” Sillman said. “We emphasize everything. We’re going to continue to look at ways to evolve the property and make this global, not just the top 5 markets in Europe.
“It’s important we look at the franchise and property globally.”