A thrilling 4-0 win for Liverpool FC Tuesday against FC Barcelona propelled the English Premier League club into the Champions League Final and gave a recently announced United States tour an extra boost.
“Soccer in the U.S. has been growing, gathering momentum for the past decade,” said Bruce Grobbelaar, who played in 624 games as a goalkeeper for Liverpool from 1981 to 1994 and serves as the ambassador for the tour. “Now Liverpool is growing its fanbase in the U.S. A few years ago, there were only 24 U.S. supporters clubs. Now, there’s 49.
“You can see it’s growing, and it will be brilliant after that spectacle the other night.”The team will travel to the U.S. for three games in July in an effort to grow its brand, with games at Notre Dame Stadium, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. Liverpool will play Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, LaLiga’s Sevilla and Portugal’s Sporting CP of Primeira Liga over those three matches.
The U.S. tour serves two purposes. First, it provides the team with a challenging preseason schedule ahead of the next Premier League slate. Beyond that, it’s a way to showcase the team to its American fans firsthand.
“We’re heading to three incredible locations this year,” said Billy Hogan, Liverpool FC managing director and chief commercial officer. “Each of these stadiums has their own deep-rooted heritage similar to our own and we’ll face three great opposition teams.
“This trip to the USA will be very special and we’re really looking forward to having as many of our supporters with us along the way.”
Grobbelaar said the mix of opponents will make for a unique cross-branding opportunity to grow the sport of soccer in the U.S. as well as the presence of the respective leagues and teams. He believes historical immigrant populations could provide an interesting storyline to the exhibition matches this summer, as the Midwest was a popular destination for Germans and Brooklyn is now home to a significant Portuguese population.“I happen to look at where they’re playing the games and the populations of descent,” he said. “It’s a good idea to grow fanbases like that.”
The cross-league exhibitions also represent a prime opportunity for exposure for participating leagues, which in turn promotes the European game and the sport of soccer as a whole. The English Premier League has grown prominently among U.S. soccer fans with its NBC broadcast deal the past decade and now other leagues are making their investments in growing the U.S. market well known.
Front Office Sports has detailed both the efforts by the German Bundesliga and Spain’s LaLiga in recent months, each of which noted strong potential in U.S. soccer growth versus limited growth potential in their already established home markets. Bundesliga cited data of 59.6 million soccer fans in the U.S. and growing, leaving plenty of room for leagues and teams to gain fans.“Right now, interest levels are growing so much, everybody benefits,” said Arne Rees, Bundesliga Americas executive vice president of strategy. “I have no idea if in 10 years we’ll be in a food fight for the same fan, but it’s not exclusive right now.”
In the long run, Grobbelaar believes the U.S. soccer market will be controlled by the MLS as it fills out its expansion plans and the leagues underneath it, including USL Championship and USL League One, continue their growth. But even with those leagues growing in strength and commanding local fandom, Grobbelaar said the U.S. will have room for foreign team supporters. Likewise, to continue the growth of soccer in the U.S., the U.S. men’s national team needs to join the women’s team in international play success. A CONCACAF Gold Cup win and continued World Cup qualification would also help, and Grobbelaar believes the U.S. could play in a World Cup Final in the next decade.
“If you look at the MLS, they’ve attracted a lot of foreign players from Europe, South America; a very diverse situation,” said Grobbelaar who played in the North American Soccer League prior to his Liverpool career. “The younger U.S. generations will see that and want to follow international soccer.”
But before any of that, or even the Liverpool U.S. tour, can happen, American Liverpool supporters are heading to Las Vegas for a big Champions League final watch party in early June. Grobbelaar said at least 30 U.S. Liverpool FC supporter groups will make their way to Las Vegas to hear three Liverpool legends: David Johnson, Roy Evans and Howard Gayle.
“They’ll be out there to tell their stories, grow the Liverpool brand,” he said. “David Johnson has some stories.”It’s another step on top of the club’s Champions League success and this summer’s U.S. tour toward increasing its foreign presence. The road is still long, but the club whose motto is “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is intent on coaxing plenty of Americans to join them on it.