With talks resurfacing again over potential Premier League fixtures being held in the United States, fans are understandably concerned that they are being left alienated once again in favour of clubs and the league opting for more revenue opportunities. 

However, aiming to quell these concerns and analyse the bigger picture, Neil Joyce – CEO of CLV Group – answers some burning questions in regards to how fans will be compensated if league games move across the pond. 

Joyce also revealed the factors as to why soccer is growing year upon year in the US, which European teams are leading the way in fan support, and how much clubs stand to make by venturing deeper into the vast US sports business landscape. 

Insider Sport: Firstly Neil, what did you make of the backlash from fans upon reports linking the Premier League with hosting live fixtures in the US? 

Neil Joyce: The backlash from fans was somewhat expected. As a passionate Premier League football fan myself, I completely understood it. Football fans are known for their strong loyalty and attachment to their club and the concept of hosting live fixtures in the US can feel like a detachment from the club’s community roots. 

However, from a data and strategic standpoint, there’s a fine balance to be struck between growing a club’s fan base in the US, while also not alienating local match-day fans. It all comes down to communication and how well clubs can communicate this to their fans. 

If clubs can generate an additional $20-30m annually from US-based games and reinvest that into the club whether that be helping secure a new player, improving training facilities or freezing ticket prices, fans would start to see the benefits.  

Insider Sport: With Premier League TV ratings up in the US, why do you believe that the time is now for the league to consider hosting games within the country? 

Neil Joyce: Ultimately, the demand is there like we’ve never seen before. There are 83 million Premier League fans in the US, with 44% yet to choose a team. 

This presents a golden opportunity for clubs to tap into and convert over 36 million undecided who have an affinity for the sport but are not yet committed to a team, alongside the US fans of the club who are presently unknown to them. 

Our data has proven that clubs can expect to three-to-five times their US fan base in the next 12 months. Additionally, we’re on the brink of a new wave of soccer fever in the US.  Not only is the demand there, but with Messi’s move to Inter Miami, the upcoming FIFA World Cup, the 2024 Copa America, and pre-season tours, the stage is set for clubs to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of this lucrative US fanbase. 

We’ve seen the power of cracking the US and what that can do for a sport, like Formula 1 as an example. If clubs can understand their US fans and how to target and engage them, by 2026 this could generate $1.1bn in revenue for the top European football clubs, averaging around $300m per year.  

Given the scale of the market and increasing popularity of the sport, not to mention advances in consumer targeting—now is the time to capitalise.

credit: Shutterstock

Insider Sport: What considerations should the league take if it does host games in the US, in terms of marketing, sponsorship, etc. How does the US sports market differ from the UK sports market? 

Neil Joyce: US fans differ in many ways from UK fans, both behaviourally and demographically. US fans have a much competitive sporting landscape and with it choices. 

Within our data we have seen that for the majority of the Premier League teams, soccer is not their first sport, unsurprisingly the NBA takes first place. The marketing and sponsorship opportunities can be aligned to collaborations with those other sports, for example, collaborations with NBA stars, co-promotion and staging of games within cities where the clubs have the highest penetration of fans or target growth areas. 

Sponsorship becomes a very interesting opportunity for the club’s existing sponsors and potential new sponsors to connect with younger and more diverse audiences. Demographically the UK fan is much older, at an average age of 42 years old, whereas in the US, over 50% of US fans are under the age of 45. 

To target US fans, the tactics must be different. The US is an entirely different market and if you want to succeed in the US, you have to adapt.

I always say, “You can’t sell if you do not know who they are and what they want.” As any corporate, commercial and global business will know, identifying, engaging and converting customers requires local market knowledge, adaptation of propositions, development of new ones and investment into developing those audiences.

Insider Sport: As of the end of the 2023/24 league season, which European team is leading the way as the US’ favourite team, and why? 

Neil Joyce: Currently, PSG is leading the way, seeing considerable growth in the US, with a 34.9% increase in US fandom over the 2022/2023 season, over double the rate of its closest competitor, Tottenham Hotspur, growing by 15%.  

PSG’s success is attributed to positioning itself as a lifestyle brand but whether or not the club can sustain and scale this growth as it transitions to a new group of players – losing the global appeal of Messi, Neymar and now Kylian Mbappe – remains to be seen.  

Other clubs including Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United, however, show substantial potential revenues. Real Madrid has the highest potential revenue at $61m and Barcelona and Manchester United also show to gain $37.5m and $40.7m, respectively. 

These clubs have long-standing fan bases and significant commercial appeal, but whether or not they’re able to capture and capitalise on the opportunity is another question altogether. 

Insider Sport: Could live games in the US bring not only significant revenue for smaller-sized teams, but also enhanced visibility and could this be a new growth driver for lower-table/recently promoted clubs? 

Yes, live games in the US could provide a significant revenue boost and greater visibility for smaller-sized teams. The desire for live competitive sports in the US is huge, and creating this halo for any club irrespective of size is important. 

As we have mentioned there are 36 million US soccer fans that are undecided, not to mention the new-gen alpha group – the legacy and on-field success of clubs clearly is important, but these fans do not have that context at present.

Wrexham is the perfect example of a lower-level club that successfully cracked the US, despite not having the legacy and prestige of other Premier League giants. Wrexham kicks off its US summer tour in July against Bournemouth as the club continues on the hunt. Wrexham proved that with the right strategy, storytelling and stardom, any club can succeed in capturing the hearts, minds and wallets of  US fans. 

So in answer to the question, absolutely, but the path to the US differs from club to club. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, it’s all about understanding who your fans are and the tactics to convert them. 

We are monitoring the efforts of Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Wolves with keen interest both pre, during and post their US Summer Tour 2024 efforts. There is a need for creativity, connectivity, collaboration and cultivation – very similar to how many DTC businesses run customer lifecycle marketing programs.

Insider Sport: Do you believe that the 2026 FIFA World Cup will play a determining role in whether or not the Premier League will decide upon moving some live games over to the US? 

Neil Joyce: I have no doubt that the FIFA World Cup will significantly influence this decision. We’ve seen this before and we’ll likely see it again.  

When the US hosted the World Cup in 1994, shortly after came the MLS. We’re bound to see momentum build and this global tournament will undoubtedly heighten interest in soccer across the US and create the perfect environment for the Premier League to explore hosting games there.  

The infrastructure, fan enthusiasm and media coverage surrounding the World Cup can provide a solid foundation for the Premier League’s expansion efforts and remove any doubt about the demand for the sport. However, the time to strike is now, clubs shouldn’t wait to capture this opportunity but focus their efforts on capturing the US now.   

There are also some other factors that can further guide decisions on this pre-World Cup. Does the Premier League sit back and let La Liga steal a march? Also, there is increased pressure from NBC who bought the current rights and are clamouring for live competitive action stateside.

credit: Shutterstock

Insider Sport: Do you anticipate there to be considerations for season ticket holders if games are moved across the pond? What benefits would you recommend? 

Neil Joyce: Yes, potentially. As we discussed earlier, clubs cannot alienate their home fans. There is a delicate balance that clubs need to get right. Asking themselves, how can we harvest the demand in the US without putting our loyal home fans at risk? 

I think clubs should think about special considerations to soften the initial backlash. Despite the longevity and great opportunities that will come from the US, not to mention the success this can bring on and off the pitch for a club, clubs can’t forget their roots. 

Potential benefits could include:

  • Reinvestment of revenue achieved through such initiatives back into season ticket holder schemes that are non-financially geared, i.e, improve fan experiences at the stadium
  • Compensation: Partial refunds or discounts for games moved abroad or the occasional free home game.
  • Travel Packages: Offering subsidised travel packages to the US for loyal fans.
  • Merchandise: Special edition merchandise or memorabilia as a token of appreciation for the game played in the US.
  • Create a fanzone at the domestic stadium and or screen the game/a watch-a-long at the stadium for those fans who cannot travel to the US.

Insider Sport: Lastly Neil, and thank you for your time, for those fans against the move to the US, how would you convince them that not only would this be in the best interest for the league, but also for supporters? 

Neil Joyce: Convincing fans who are against the move to the US involves addressing their concerns directly and highlighting the benefits that such a move can bring not only to the league but also to the supporters themselves.  

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge and validate the concerns of the fans. Many fans feel a deep connection to their club and worry that hosting games abroad might dilute that bond. By recognising these emotions, clubs can start on the right foot.

Next, I would emphasise the long-term benefits to the club. Hosting games in the US supports the club’s need to grow revenues, and standing at $300m in annual revenue, the opportunity is significant. This can directly translate into better financial stability and increased investment in the club. This means more funds for signing top players and enhancing the overall match-day experience. All these factors contribute to the club’s success on the field, which is ultimately what every fan wants.

I would also highlight the potential for global growth. By expanding the club’s reach internationally, particularly in a lucrative market like the US, the club can build a more robust global fan base. This doesn’t just increase revenue; it also enhances the club’s prestige and influence worldwide. A stronger, more financially secure club can compete better domestically and internationally.

Additionally, it’s crucial to assure local fans that they will not be forgotten. Offering compensatory benefits such as free home games and special travel packages can help soften the initial hostility. These gestures show that the club values its home supporters and is committed to maintaining a strong connection with them.

Sensitivity is vital, along with a commitment to balance short and medium-term financial goals with fan satisfaction. The NFL has gradually globalised its fandom by introducing live games each regular season with huge revenue growth, whilst being prepared to work with domestic fans on their concerns. 

Lastly, I would frame the move as a strategic, necessary step for the club’s evolution in an increasingly globalised sport. The football landscape is changing, and clubs that adapt to new opportunities are the ones that thrive, just take a look at PSG who have secured a strong foothold in the US. This move not only propelled the brand of the club but enabled it to remain competitive at the highest levels.

By addressing these points, fans can see that the move is not just a commercial venture, but a strategic decision aimed at securing the club’s long-term success and, by extension, enhancing their own experience as supporters.

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