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Premier League preseason tournament in the US could spark host bidding war

English soccer’s top flight will hope to choose from multiple destinations for inaugural event.

18 October 2022 Ed Dixon

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  • Preseason event reportedly expected to take place in late July 2023
  • League fixtures not currently part of the plan
  • Tournament deemed first step in taking ‘meaningful’ games overseas

With the Premier League set to hold a preseason tournament in the US next summer, English soccer’s top flight could start a bidding war to secure a host.

The Athletic had reported that the league wants to capitalise on its increasing global popularity and had already discussed holding ‘meaningful’ games overseas back in September 2021. The US, China, India, Brazil and Indonesia had purportedly been identified as potential destinations for the matches.

An event in the States had been targeted for summer 2022, though Covid-19 issues delayed the idea.

Now, the tournament is expected to take place in late July 2023. According to The Athletic, the plan would see around six Premier League teams divided across two groups, each playing two round-robin friendlies in multiple cities on the east and west coasts of the US.

Several states could throw their hat into the ring for the inaugural tournament.

“There would be entities that would be extremely interested to have the event come to them,” Phil Carling, managing director of football at international sports marketing agency Octagon, told SportsPro.

“[There is] the state of Nevada with Las Vegas because that brings in, potentially, tens of thousands of additional punters. [There is the] state of New York as well [and] Florida with all of its other attractions.

“I could definitely see that there would be plenty of opportunity to open that up as a further revenue source.”

Carling also reckons that the Premier League will “definitely be talking to people like Relevant Sports Group”, which already works with Uefa, and other agencies that have been promoting elite soccer in North America.

A preseason curtain raiser in the US would also offer ample commercial opportunities for companies looking to leverage the Premier League’s appeal outside of England.

“One of the challenges for a North American brand is that all the activation has to be in the UK, because the games are played here,” notes Carling. “So the more that you can spread that, the more that looks like a brilliant opportunity for the brands.”

As for which clubs are keen to participate, 14 top-flight teams are reportedly on board. The appetite of the league’s so-called ‘big six’ is less clear, but there is hope that at least one of them will sign up.

While the tournament would be a notable step on the Premier League’s journey to hold noteworthy matches abroad, the top tier has reportedly insisted that competitive league fixtures are not currently part of the plan. An idea of playing an extra game abroad was first floated more than 14 years ago but incurred the wrath of fans.

“I don’t think things have moved on sufficiently since 2008 to make that possible,” added Carling. “That would be a bridge too far, as far as the fans are concerned.”

Individual clubs have played preseason matches before in the US, while the top flight put on the biennial Premier League Asia Trophy from 2003 until 2019 before the pandemic’s arrival. The latter was held in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and Singapore in various years.

The Athletic reports that many clubs view the new preseason tournament as the latest step to taking league fixtures abroad in the future. That feeling has been prompted by the success of the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) in playing games outside of their home market.

“At the end of the day, it’s not like [the Premier League] is a small rights owner,” said Carling. “[It] should have the confidence and the ambition of an NFL or an NBA.

He continued: “Once you’ve got the proof of concept, once you’ve got the thing up and running, it becomes an accepted part of the calendar and an accepted part of the commercial inventory.

“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to take that to Asian markets, for example. That then opens up that bidding process with sovereign wealth funds and those types of [entities] bidding to bring the competition or tournament to them.”

Further strengthening the Premier League’s case are the bumper TV ratings in the States, with NBC’s coverage of the 2021/22 season becoming the second most-watched season of the competition in US television history.

Additionally, Peacock scored an average viewership of 796,000 during the game between Manchester United and Liverpool on 22nd August, setting a new Premier League audience record in the US for NBC’s streaming service.

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