The USA strangely remains off limits to Arsenal despite the US flavoured management
As a US based Gooner, one eagerly scans each summer for a sign the Gunners will make a stateside tour. In the past, this time of the year brings a tide of overseas clubs. And voila, on cue, fans here will get to see Chelsea, Real Madrid, AC Milan, PSG, Liverpool, Spurs, Roma, Swansea, Stoke, and Aston Villa playing fixtures all over the USA, raising their profile and doing a good bit of business through merchandising, sales, possibly even tying up some lucrative sponsorship deals.
Every team with an iota of US representation in the boardroom has made it over here. Except Arsenal. They have a MLS franchise holder as their majority shareholder and a CEO who was responsible for developing the league as one of its deputy commissioners.
On the face, the sort of impressive credentials and past associations which could be used to introduce Arsenal to a new market successfully and improve its commercial revenue. That is Ivan Gazidis’s current buzzword. You don’t have to be Man Utd to realize the huge potential of the US market.
Lets look at Roma in the Serie, one of the most exclusive leagues when it comes to foreign ownership but recently breached by Thomas Di Benedetto, president of a Boston based consortium who took over in 2011. There were no bones made about how this was an opportunity to promote Roma as a global brand. He naturally turned to the USA, where he hopes to set up five satellite centres to coach the club’s style of soccer.
The club also signed up Michael Bradley, bolstering the midfield with his skill, but one of the benefits of having his name associated with the club would be to generate interest in such ventures and commercially develop them. Bradley with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey is amongst the most followed US internationals.
Here is John Henry on the importance of Liverpool’s US tour:
“We need to be in the US and we know this area well. (Chairman) Tom Werner is a Harvard grad and we knew this would be a great place for the team to train. Liverpool is such a global club. Last year we were in Asia, this year we’re in North America. We have to try to get out and see the fans.”
This was the same John Henry who immediately got Warrior Sports, a low key US based sports apparel maker on board on a £25m per year sponsorship deal which could net them as much as an eye popping £300m after their previous arrangement with Adidas collapsed with the German company refusing to renew their contract. The deal was £10m a year better than the previous Adidas deal.
In 2010, just before the World Cup, Utd set their sights on Chicharito Hernandez, a 20 year old phenom from Chivas Guadalajara, signing him up for a pittance before he caught the eye in South Africa. One of the signing terms was to play a match against Chivas in which Hernandez turned up for his old team to a rapturous welcome. Three days earlier, at the MLS All Stars vs Man Utd match at Reliant Stadium, Hernandez’s cross border popularity was palpable as he brought down the house with his goal en route to a 5-2 shellacking of the All Stars. It was one of the most heavily attended All Star games in all of professional sports, not just soccer. Its these examples, a confluence of skill and marketing genius, that keeps Utd aloft as one of the world’s sporting brands.
Arsenal’s commercial forays in comparison have been rather provincial. They never capitalized on the success of the 2004 Invincibles as a way of bolstering a valuable revenue stream, a strange oversight considering their drum beat of a self sustaining model. Their first international tour in twelve years was somewhat successful but with their most recognizable names missing in the second edition to the Far East, one doesn’t know how far that will go. There is a danger that the Asian market despite its vast potential could also be unforgiving.
On the other hand, you have a ready made Arsenal brand in the USA in the form of Thierry Henry, whose legendary name could headline any potential Red Bulls showdown to draw in salivating crowds. Stan Kroenke’s MLS team, the neglected Colorado Rapids could also enjoy some international exposure with a potential Gunners arrival. There are so many points of connection but Arsenal continues to fail to develop them.
As this article suggests, Arsenal’s lopsided reliance on match day revenue can only bring so much but they lag far behind Utd, Liverpool. Spurs, and Chelsea in developing new markets. It appears that Arsene Wenger for all his fealty to the self sustaining model is one of the obstacles towards international tours. The Gunners sponsorship growth has been less stellar and overshadowed by the restraints imposed by the Emirates and Nike multi -year deals that are set to expire in 2014. Despite the presence of Gazidis and Tom Fox, a former sports executive at Gatorade as marketing head, the number of US based partners is limited. In contrast, Utd has exploited its US based strength in its list of 21 partners.
It’s high time Gazidis, Fox, and Stan Kroenke made their connections work for Arsenal in a market they are most familiar with. And getting Clint Dempsey to the Emirates will not just be a goalscoring boon but it will also be a huge step forward in developing that market.