World Cup party over but summer of soccer set to rock U.S.

Wed Jul 23, 2014 2:19am EDT
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - The World Cup party may be over but the summer of soccer is just heating up in the United States as fans prepare for a European invasion by the sport's glamour clubs looking to expand their brand.

From New York to Los Angeles, some of the game's brightest stars and most valuable teams will spend the next three weeks packing America's biggest stadiums with the highlight coming on Aug. 2 when a record crowd of 110,000 - the largest ever to watch a soccer game in the United States - is expected to fill Michigan Stadium to see Real Madrid take on Manchester United.

European clubs big and small will cross the Atlantic looking for a piece of the American pie with giants like Real Madrid, recently rated the world's most valuable sporting franchise by Forbes at $3.44 billion, Manchester United and Bayern Munich joined by more modest outfits such as Crystal Palace and Fulham.

Teams that once looked upon the U.S. as a soccer wasteland now arrive in waves, keen to broker sponsorship deals and partnerships allowing them to tap into new revenue streams that will provide the financial might to make blockbuster moves like Real's signing on Tuesday of Colombia's World Cup's Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez in a deal worth $107.9 million.

"Some clubs like Manchester United figured this out a long time go," Charlie Stillitano, CEO of Relevent Sports, the company that put together the International Champions Cup that will feature eight of Europe's biggest clubs, told Reuters.

"These teams were very aggressive (about North America) when it was hard to get them to come here, you had to pay them a lot of money and convince them to come here.

"A lot of it was because there wasn't really any commercial element. A lot of these teams felt that travel and pre-season were not conducive to a good season on the field.

"Now it's about how they can activate their sponsors, how they can sell merchandise, the commercial side goes hand-in-hand with the team, the football."   Continued...

Clint Dempsey (C) of the U.S. knocks the ball into the net to score against Portugal during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match at the Amazonia arena in Manaus June 22, 2014. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko