LONDON (Reuters) - Brothers Tod and Tim Leiweke, two of the most powerful sports entrepreneurs in the United States, have questioned the value of European soccer clubs staging matches in the U.S. and Canada.
The brothers, who have been involved in American sports clubs across different codes, were reacting on Wednesday to a story in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper which suggested UEFA was considering staging mini-tournaments outside Europe.
Meanwhile, other media reports said English Premier League clubs have again discussed playing regular season games abroad.
The brothers said they welcomed the debate on the issue but told the Leaders in Sport Summit at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium they were against UEFA’s plans and the recent trend of European clubs playing pre-season friendlies in North America.
Tod, now the president of Tampa Bay Sports, said: ”One of the challenges I’ve always thrown out there to the powers that be in football (soccer) is ‘Will you be a pirate or will you be a pioneer?’
“Are you going to use North America just as an opportunity to make some additional dollars or are you going to commit to taking the sport to the next level and help to grow Major League Soccer?”
”In the case of Manchester City, they are doing a phenomenal job in New York. They begin playing next year. They’ve signed David Villa and Frank Lampard.
”At the same time, you look at the news about UEFA thinking about moving a meaningful series of games over to North America. Is that good or bad for Major League Soccer?
“Is that a pioneer vision or is that a pirate move? Therein lies the debate.”
He said the MLS had progressed over the last decade with U.S. fans understanding the game better and being more discerning about what they watch.
“This past summer the biggest draw in Seattle was not Tottenham playing Sounders it was Sounders playing Portland in front of 66,000 people.”
Tim, who was president and chief executive of Anschutz Entertainment Group, the owner of Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy and who brought David Beckham to the U.S., is now president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
He questioned whether Premier League matches played outside Britain were good or bad for the MLS.
“Are those competitors our partners or do they see that North American landscape and want to take money out of that landscape? Therein lies the challenge for Major League Soccer.”
He added: ”For many years clubs came to America, and were little more than pirates, they played a nice game and filled their bags with cash and flew out.
“Fans might have seen the stars play, might not have seen the stars play, but all that’s changed.”
“The MLS has improved a lot in the last 10 years.”
Jeffrey Webb, president of the CONCACAF region which covers North America, Central America and the Caribbean, disagreed with the Leiwekes and told delegates in another seminar he was in favor of a Premier League game being staged in North America.
“I think it will bode well for the future -- the game will grow. The U.S market is a great market, not only for the English Premier League but other leagues as well. I believe this is going to be a great promotion for the game. It’s a win-win situation.”
Games in the United States and Asia have proved particularly popular and lucrative especially over the last few years for European clubs with almost 110,000 fans watching Manchester United play Real Madrid in Michigan this year.
The Premier League’s chief executive Richard Scudamore was widely criticized six years ago for a plan to introduce an extra match for each club -- the so-called “39th game” -- at venues in Asia, the United States, Australia and elsewhere.
However, at the start of this season, he claimed clubs still supported the idea.
The new plan, it was reported on Wednesday, would be for one of the existing 38 rounds of 10 fixtures to be played at various venues around the world.
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Additional reporting by Michael Hann; Editing by Steve Tongue