Are Friendlies the Next Big Revenue Driver for Clubs?

The high-profile friendly tournament is gradually turning into a marketing and revenue machine. So, are friendlies having more economical impact than the odd matchday?

The launch of this year’s International Champions Cup once again brought up the most high-profile clubs in the world: Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Juventus Turin, Arsenal London, Benfica Lissabon, Manchester United and the list goes on. Orchestrated since 2013, the tournament is played in various locations across the world, from New York to Singapore. Now, the lucrative pre-season schedule will be brought to many more fans as the host organisation Relevent Sports Group have brokered a two-year deal with IMG Media to distribute the games even better. So, apart from selling countless tickets, the media coverage of the top games should be more comprehensive. Are friendlies, of all things, turning into an unmissable event of economic significance?

Pre-Season: From spreading the brand to the battle of giants

A decade or so ago, football clubs had got used to an annual pre-season tour, which offered the chance to find new fans in different countries and cultures and play games against local teams. These tours brought them to Asia, Africa, North and South America, to different corners of Europe and have always helped to grow their brand. Nowadays, though, or since the inauguration of the International Champions Cup, the odd games against fellow European clubs that resided in the same area have become more of an obligation. Last season, the tournament that is hosted by the Relevent Sports Group (RSG) staged 27 games across 22 cities and sold over a million tickets for them – a record, as SportsPro Media report.

The very same outlet now refers to a deal between the RSG and IMG Media, which will see the latter sell the rights to watch the games globally. Although the US, Mexico and Central America are excluded for some reason. The ICC managing director, Matthew Kontos, said:

Our global tournament needs an international partner to help reach our distribution goals and satisfy the viewing needs of soccer fans all over the world. IMG brings a unique expertise that makes them the ideal partner to continue to elevate the ICC.

Meanwhile, Michael Mellor, senior vice president of soccer at IMG Media, explained:

We look forward to working with Relevent Sports Group over the next two years and to increasing awareness of the ICC and ensuring the tournament is viewed as widely as possible across all forms of media platforms.

You can already purchase tickets for some mouthwatering clashes.

How much of a media event the ICC has become was clear to see at the launch of this season’s edition. Reknowned actor Jason Sudeikis was the host for the media-effective event.

The ICC even have their own online shop on their website, selling club merch aplenty. Tickets for the match between Atlético Madrid and Juventus at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, maybe a bit of a low-key stadium compared to the other places, start at 74 Euro. That means fans will have to pay quite a sum to see their favourite stars; unless they turn to streaming opportunities or other media, where IMG Media will possibly have helped distribute the games.

Financial picking season for the clubs

For the 2017 tournament, TotalSportek has published a list of payments for the clubs taking part. Real Madrid, Manchester United and the FC Barcelona were paid 20 million pound each for appearance alone, plus add-ons. Two years on, these payments will only be bigger.

Appearance fees for the ICC 2017, © TotalSportek

With that much at stake, and a much bigger media audience and attention to follow, can clubs even concentrate on their individual demands to prepare for a new season full of challenges, when maybe there’s a lot of new personnel or even a new manager?

It seems as though, with the International Champions Cup and similar obligations, clubs are turning traditional pre-season patterns into a marketing event ever more.

That isn’t reprehensible, for every club has to do that as a brand. And brands, other than a sports club, simply cannot afford something of an off-season. Therefore, they offer fans exclusive media content, special events and of course an entertaining and packed pre-season programme. In that respect, a well-organised and well-paid for pre-season could turn out to be of more importance than a single matchday. It might not be as significant in terms of where the team ends up in the season – but the presentation of the club’s brand in between such seasons is of bigger significance for the development of the club as a company. Eventually, for a lot of clubs pre-season is the time to reap the rewards for proper branding and it could be called picking season in terms of the heavy financial shuffles in the industry. A club cannot afford to miss that and fans get excited; but will they remain as they are, if all that big club super branding continues to overshadow what football once was all about?

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