Years ago, Charlie Stillitano noticed something happening in the U.S. sports market. A growing number of Americans were paying attention to soccer, the long-established world’s favorite sport, but one that had been long overshadowed domestically.
Noticing a lack of media distribution that fit the increasing demand, Stillitano teamed up with Stephen Ross, Matt Higgins, and Jonathan Sheiman to help fill this demand and propel the sport’s growth resulting in the creation of Relevent Sports in 2012.
Since then, Relevent, a division of RSE Ventures, has established itself as a multinational media, sports and entertainment group and one of the preeminent soccer operating businesses in North America and Asia. Relevent is most well known as the parent company of the International Champions Cup (ICC), an annual soccer tournament that brings top European clubs on tour to North America and Asia, but it also owns the ICC Women’s Tournament, ICC Futures, ICC Skills Challenge, ICC House of Soccer, Alianza and Jugotv.
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Through this work, Relevent has developed a deep connection the North American soccer space, resulting it being a perfect fit when La Liga went searching for a partner to help build its presence in the American market.
Through the partnership, announced this summer, Relevent will help manage the Spanish league’s social and digital content in North America and assist La Liga in increasing the value of its TV rights to be more successful in the region.
“They want to keep growing their presence through grassroots efforts,” said Daniel Sillman, CEO of Relevent Sports and the ICC. “We’re very honored to be their partner and to work with them holistically and, frankly, it’s the natural evolution of what Relevent has become in terms of understanding how to produce live events.”
The piece of the partnership that received the largest amount of attention, of course, was the goal to have an annual La Liga match in the U.S, something that has received a mixed reaction from Spanish clubs and players, but that Sillman emphasizes is just one piece of the partnership.
Since its inception, Relevent has understood the value of American fans seeing top talent up close, something that was at the heart of the creation of the ICC.
“[The ICC] was a real competition that American fans and Asian could have the opportunity to see the best players in the world and the biggest clubs in the world play in their region and have an opportunity really to participate with it beyond the screen,” explained Sillman.
This same idea is now mirrored in Relevent’s plans to bring an annual La Liga match to the States, starting as early as this winter.
While Relevent has proven its ability to be a curator of live events, the company’s expertise extends beyond that and allow it to serve La Liga in other ways as well.
“Because we understand how to market events and how to produce live events, we understand content and digital marketing, we understand how to run a commercial business and work with brand partners and we understand soccer and this region so well. It allowed us to be the most qualified to be [La Liga’s] partner here,” explained Sillman.
Relevent’s decade-plus of experience has helped it realize that to many fans, soccer represents more than just a sport.
“We have a pretty broad perspective to pull from in terms of understanding how to target different demographics that have interest in a sport and then really start to understand how do we get better at converting NBA fans, NFL, NHL fans and sports fans generally to soccer,” said Sillman.
To appeal to a broader population, Relevent created the ICC House of Soccer, an entertainment property designed to help bridge the gap between soccer and non-soccer fans. With its learnings, Relevent has found that converting soccer fans has less to do with the sport itself and more to do with culture.
“We’ve had celebrity games with soccer legends, but also with NBA stars, NFL stars, and musicians. We worked with Drake and Lil Wayne and Alvin Kamara and Draymond Green and Odell Beckham Jr.,” said Sillman. “We’ve partnered with great food brands like Bluestone Lane and Momofuku and Milk Bar. We partnered last year with Art Miami, which is one of the big producers of Art Basel with Kevin Lyons who’s a fantastic artist.
“We’ve been able to leverage this kind of melting pot of different cultures in the States and use that to drive interest in the sport of soccer.”
These learnings will surely benefit La Liga as it works to understand the American soccer fan, develop partnerships, and secure its place in a market that Relevent sees as having immense possibilities.