Commentary

The Rush for America could be over

It was only a matter of time before U.S. soccer fans realized that the International Champions Cup is a cynically scheduled series aimed at gouging their wallets in return for nothing more than a parade of star names in slow motion. That attendances are down, by almost half in this year's edition compared with 2016, should surprise no one who's ever actually had to sit through one of these instantly forgettable charades, with half-fit players strolling through hot nights shedding less sweat than a middle-aged fan walking to the hotdog stand.

The reason why European clubs come to the U.S. in summer is as obvious as it is audacious -- they will take home a fat check after sending teams often missing their biggest names, especially after a World Cup or a European Championship. Forget all that flam about wanting to play for their loyal North American fan base. Like the promoters, they're here to grab your cash and then take the next air-conditioned first-class seat out of town.

The players who actually do come are still in a summer vacation mood, and in the process of regaining fitness in time for a season still several weeks away. Perhaps on the way home they drop a note to their agents with a list of cities where they'd most like to spend the last two or three years of their career. "Hey, Chicago could be warm enough in March by 2028."

Yet it seems that many fans no longer want to play the role of cash-dispensing rube, and ICC's policy of saturating the market with a mediocre product is reaping the crowds that it deserves. The accepted truth of European soccer's superiority is being steadily undermined by the spectacle of teams who can barely be bothered, especially when compared with Major League Soccer on a dollars-per-thrill basis.

Remind me again why I'm here? Oh yes, to mug for a selfie wearing my Barca shirt in a mega-stadium. Except that these days the stands in the background are half-empty or papered over with an ad. And even after the penalty shootout, we're left feeling strangely empty inside. Same goes for our wallets.

This leaves the rush for the American market in a precarious position. It can only be a matter of time before clubs start questioning the costs of running that New York office that seemed such a good idea 10 years ago. The coach is moaning yet again about his players being stuck on a plane for so many hours with no obvious benefit. Meanwhile, for thousands of fans the novelty's clearing wearing off, as it turns out -- guess what -- to be much cheaper, more comfortable and much more gratifying to watch your favorite Premier League team over breakfast at the weekend.

No doubt there were, and maybe still are, self-proclaimed visionaries who thought that a jet-propelled, global super league represented a glamorous future of games so HUGE they'd bust sport's always surging hype-o-meter, creating a handful of branded players bigger and hotter than the sun that shines out of their backends. Ultimately, however, there is still one thing that's more important to fans than Glory on High. It's the game itself.

Beneath the sheen of multi-colored merch, grandiose anthems, muscular posturing and asinine publicity 'narratives,' there still has to be a recognizable contest. You can no more claim the ICC as a meaningful competition than you can put something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue on a wild hog and then march it to the altar (at least, not in most states). It's an insult to every fan's intelligence to pretend otherwise.

Soccer isn't free, but friendly games should be. If clubs really wanted to grow the game in the U.S., and not just the brand, then they would play here for nothing. Now that your dollar's wising up, they're tending more toward the new money in Singapore and China. Dear U.S. fan, Juventus and Manchester City don't love you after all. The fabled Eurosnobs may finally feel that it's time to acknowledge a thriving and increasingly stable 24-team professional league in their own backyard.

(Ian Plenderleith is a European-based soccer writer. His latest book, "The Quiet Fan," is available here. His previous book, "Rock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League," is available here.)

14 comments about "The Rush for America could be over".
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now, July 31, 2019 at 3:27 p.m.

    Great article, thanks!

  2. Nick Wagner, August 1, 2019 at 9:53 a.m.

    I have been feeling the same way. FEDEX field has had some good teams come the last few years, but I never went because it was too hot and I was concerned about the level of play as it is pre-season. I would definitely go if the Premier League or LA Liga did what the NFL does and schedules one or two real matches in the states. That would be worth the cost of admission. 

  3. John Soares, August 1, 2019 at 11:57 a.m.

    Right On, article!!!
    I gave up on these several years ago for the main reasons listed.
    Much too expensive to see mostly reserves give little effort.

  4. Adam Cohen, August 1, 2019 at 12:04 p.m.

    haha so true and well said.

    you didnt mention the risk of injury to players, arguably due to playing on turf, which sadly and again is more reality than risk this summer. 

    Wont we all miss seeing Marco Asensio play this season. 

  5. Paul Berry replied, August 1, 2019 at 12:36 p.m.

    I think they lay sod on top of the turf for ICC games.

  6. Paul Berry, August 1, 2019 at 1:04 p.m.

    It's really about time certain American soccer fans swallowed their pride and started watching their domestic league.

    MLS has improved dramatically in the five seasons I've been watching it regularly and that's reflected in the doubling of non-DP salaries.

    MLS has become a destination league for exciting young South American players and there are plenty of talented American kids coming.through the ranks.

    If you don't like the way the league or the sport is run, join the rest of the world. The Premier League and La Liga are run for the benefit of a handful of clubs at the expense of everyone else.

    Promotion and relegation won't come unless USL games are sold out week in week out at which point it would make economic sense.

    Just enjoy the football and forget the politics.

  7. beautiful game replied, August 1, 2019 at 2:19 p.m.

    P.B., you can enjoy MLS to the fullest...and IMHO, pointing fingers lacks maturity.

  8. beautiful game, August 1, 2019 at 2:15 p.m.

    The ICC came about with promoters dropping the "$$$-fishing-$$$" to the foreign clubs. As these games are pre-season money making events for promoter & clubs, the game on the pitch has no passion. It took me two games in two years to realize that the price of admission was out of proportion. As in any market, once the supply & demand curve becomes probematic, the writing is on the wall becomes evident. Besides, we have the MLS at a cheaper price and lots of intensity; and Asia has become the next oasis for cash. 

  9. humble 1, August 1, 2019 at 2:45 p.m.

    Really knee jerk reaction article.  The economics of ICC are huge.  They were taking gates of $8-$12 MIL.  If this drops by 30% they still are huge gates - and I believe they have more TV revenue this year.  The ICC game is not over - it's just going to have to make an adjustment - to the extreme competition for soccer eyeballs in the USA.  So long as they can bring the big name teams - they only have an adjustment to make on the ticketing and marketing side - an 'adjustment' as opposed to the 'overhall' that the more than 50% of MLS teams need to make where they play in front of half full stadiums most nights.  Let's see what happens.   

  10. beautiful game replied, August 2, 2019 at 4:32 p.m.

    humble...gimmicks is not about the game, it's about the show. The game speaks for itself...Good-Bad-Ugly...every person can make their own decision...I buried ICC three years ago and will spot check a game on TV to see if it has any value; knowing that the TV production and commentary are a big show.

  11. uffe gustafsson, August 1, 2019 at 4:33 p.m.

    Completely agree.
    though my younger daughter visited her sister in Minneapolis and I got em tickets for Minnesota FC vs Aston villa that got promoted, I paid $80 for the two tickets and full stadium, that was worth the price.
    but not going to the Bay Area games, last one I paid $117.00 for one nose bleed ticket.
    that was defenetly not worth add parking and I felt like been robbed.

  12. frank schoon, August 2, 2019 at 10:18 a.m.

    I have mixed emotions with European clubs coming over in the summer time. In a way it is good for exposure but as far as seeing real good soccer, forget it. For example, allowing  Weah to play with the starting team of PSG last year is a complete joke...this is kid is not  good enough but they present him in order to draw an increase in the American fan and the gate receipts...I understand these European teams are in the beginning of training season and therefore will not play all out fearing for injuries and ofcourse the MLS teams have players that want to go all out. The last time I paid money to watch one of these games was when Platini played with Juventus  against AS Roma in Washington, DC back in the 80's. 
    These games should be played at night and not during the day for it is too hot for Europeans  and dealing with the heat  gives one another reason why these games are not that fruitfull to watch.
    I do support these teams to come over for at least the American soccer fan can watch these players in person who they have often seen on TV only. It is good for soccer all way around for it can only boost soccer interest and growth. Remember that game a few years ago that drew 109,000 fans in Michigan, in some college town, ManUtd vs Real Madrid (without Ronaldo). That event ,initself, can only be viewed as a positive....did you notice after that game how many investors were ready to invest in a soccer team....
    I think when these types of games, one  should watch with a specific purpose in mind, like to introduce youth players to real big stars and the pageantry,  but don't go there with the intention of wanting a foreign team get beat by one of the MLS teams....Rather, one should go to watch the game like one would watch a painting by a Rembrandt or Vermeer and look at the craft....

  13. Jim Lindsay, August 2, 2019 at 10:34 a.m.

    Absolutely spot on.   Frienlies are only interesting if you want to check out young players and players on the bubble.    But at those prices???   These summer games have always been a sham, MLS is much more fun.  

  14. beautiful game, August 2, 2019 at 4:27 p.m.

    TV soccer: 400+ player, ref, coach, bench, etc., facials or the back of their heads...it's all about how to suffocate the viewers perception of passing/running lanes, the good, bad or ugly passes followed by more facials. When the center of gravity is the player with ball and a 30-40 meter circumference of the pitch, somehow the kahuna camera director gets over-excited about some close-up. Those sideline cameras that capture ground level footwork and the corner kick should be banned for eternity. And every hand held camera provides zero entertainment. TV is killing the game because the TV ops plan is clueless about the game's time & space.  

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