20th July 2015

From Southampton to Seattle: Why the Premier League spends summers abroad

Between the end of one relentless football season and the start of the next, you’d think that players might be at liberty to rest and spend time with their families, but their games are far from over. Premier League clubs continue to play ‘friendly’ games abroad as a matter of course during their pre-season campaigns in a bid to improve bank balances and connect with their legions of fans overseas.

All but one Premier League club will be leaving the UK’s shores before the new season kicks off on 8th August, with just Leicester City opting to remain in England. A move which will surprise few following its sensational post-season tour of Thailand and the resulting scandal.

Liverpool tops the Premier League in terms of most miles travelled during the summer ‘break’, as it embarks on a 21,743 mile mission around Australasia, southern Asia and some of the colder parts of Europe to play a handful of relatively relaxed games. But with at least a dozen English clubs positioned within 50 miles of Anfield, all of which are far more of a challenge than the True Thai All Stars and Malaysian XI sides they will play on their tour, the overriding thought is, ‘why do they bother?’

It’s all about the money.

With Sky and BT recently shelling out an astronomical £5.1bn to secure Premier League television rights for three years, the Premier League is by far the biggest fish in the growing pond of football leagues, and the financial rewards are there for those clubs that are able to swim with it.

Primarily, Premier League clubs will use the pre-season games as a way of attracting new sponsors and fans and, like any brand, look to create a stronger presence in markets in which they see significant room for expansion.

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It is no coincidence that the majority of Premier League clubs have headed to either the USA or Asia in recent years, or in many instances, both, in a bid to bolster finances. A lengthy list of chairmen have signed new or improved sponsorship deals after successful summer tours to the Asian and American markets, where the Premier League is becoming increasingly popular.

Manchester United’s £47m a year deal  with US car manufacturer Chevrolet is one of the most successful sponsorship examples of recent times, with Chelsea’s £40m a year deal with Japanese tyre manufacturer Yokohoma a close second.

Pre-season tours are very much about the fans, too. It’s a time to improve relations with those who will happily spend a small fortune on a particular club’s official TV channel or fork out for the latest team strip.

With Real Madrid and Manchester United attracting a staggering crowd in excess of 109,000 during one pre-season fixture in Michigan last year, there is certainly an appetite for the beautiful game across the pond.

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Any business would be foolish to ignore such massive opportunities to attract new customers, and clubs are trying harder than ever make sure they are the ones securing merchandise sales in forever expanding markets. Manchester United is one of several clubs to have adopted Twitter accounts in a range of languages to make sure it’s easy for international fans to connect, engage and most importantly, feel loved.

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For others, it may just be about doing what they can to make sure they don’t get left behind. Steve McLaren openly criticised Newcastle United’s pre-season trip to the USA  as the Magpies hope to attract a share of an ever-growing Premier League fan base, while Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger has never been a fan of extended breaks abroad. The Frenchman finally succumbed to pressures from his commercial team in 2011 to embark on Arsenal’s first long haul tour to Asia. And in truth, despite Arsenal’s well documented strong financial situation, they cannot afford to get left behind off the field if they want to remain serious challengers on it.

Managers will continue to complain the on field form of their current flock of superstars won’t be improved by commercial trips abroad. However, if the same managers are asking their chairmen to sign on the dotted line when the transfer window comes around, lucrative promotional summer tours are a necessity.

By Tom Gibson, consumer account executive