SBJ/July 21-27, 2014/Events and Attractions

High hopes for year two of Guinness Cup

The early exit of several top nations at this year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil could be a blessing in disguise for this year’s Guinness International Champions Cup. At least, that’s the belief of Charlie Stillitano, CEO of tournament organizer Relevent Sports.

With teams like England, Italy and Spain failing to advance past the group stage in Brazil, players from those countries were back with their club teams for initial training sessions earlier than they would have been otherwise. “We honestly caught a break with so many teams being eliminated early,” Stillitano said.

Real Madrid and Chelsea battle in last year’s event.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

But aside from the competitive assist that those players’ involvement will bring for the second year of the event, which starts this week, the monthlong World Cup competition had a clear impact on ticket sales for the tournament. Most match tickets went on sale in mid-February, and while Relevent officials said there was a steady pace of sales since then, there also was a jolt in sales over the past month.

The tournament will feature eight top European teams — including Manchester United, Real Madrid, AS Roma and Liverpool FC — playing 13 games at venues across North America. The teams will be divided in two groups, with the group winners advancing to the championship match at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium on Aug. 4.

Stillitano said he expects eight sellouts by the end of the tournament, with the other games attracting crowds of between 30,000 and 50,000 spectators. Some of the top markets for sales have been markets that did not host games in the tournament last year, including Ann Arbor, Mich.; Berkeley, Calif.; and Charlotte.

“We are talking about a tournament that will rival the Euros and World Cups as far as attendance on a per game basis,” he said.

This year’s World Cup had an average match attendance of 52,762.

2014 Guinness International Champions Cup

 Dates: Thursday-Aug. 4

 TV: Fox Sports networks (11 matches), NBC Sports Network (2 matches)

PARTICIPATING CLUBS: 

 AC Milan
 AS Roma
 Inter Milan 
 Liverpool FC 
 Manchester City
 Manchester United
 Olympiacos FC
 Real Madrid

HOST MARKETS (VENUES): 

 Ann Arbor, Mich. (Michigan Stadium)
 Berkeley, Calif. (California Memorial Stadium)
 Charlotte (Bank of America Stadium)
 Chicago (Soldier Field)
 Dallas (Cotton Bowl)
 Denver (Sports Authority Field)
 New York (Yankee Stadium)
 Miami (Sun Life Stadium)
 Minneapolis (TCF Bank Stadium)
 Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field)
 Pittsburgh (Heinz Field)
 Toronto (BMO Field)
 Washington, D.C. (FedEx Field)

One notable difference in this year’s International Champions Cup schedule from last year is the absence of doubleheaders. In 2013, eight of the 12 matches were played on the same day in the same venue, making for a total of just eight event dates. Total attendance for the tournament was more than 300,000. No doubleheaders are part of this year’s slate, meaning there will be a unique audience in each of the 13 markets for the 13 games.

On TV, Fox will broadcast 11 of the 13 games on either Fox Sports, Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 2. The remaining two games will air on NBC Sports Network. Last year’s International Champions Cup drew an average 137,000 viewers on Fox Soccer.

ESPN Deportes holds the Spanish-language rights for the games in the United States. Stillitano said that outside America, tournament matches will be shown in 150 countries.

Of course, that global TV coverage is important for organizers on the sponsorship side, as well. While official sponsors of the participating clubs have the opportunity to show their affiliation at practice sessions and daily press conferences of the teams, official tournament partners receive their time in the spotlight on match days.

For title sponsor Guinness, the linkup provides an opportunity to associate itself with some of Europe’s top football clubs while paying a fraction of what it would cost to be a sponsor of the UEFA Champions League.

“[Relevent Sports] has given us phenomenal value,” said Jon Urch, senior brand manager for Guinness.

The company is in the second year of a two-year deal for the tournament, and while Urch did not go into any details about the future of the partnership, he said that discussions are ongoing.

Urch said last summer’s association with the event delivered 2.2 billion impressions for Guinness within the United States, counting press coverage of the tournament across TV, print, digital and outdoor media. That’s far beyond what could have been generated via a traditional media buy alone. The global coverage of the event also gives Guinness the exposure it seeks in markets in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.

In terms of on-site activities, Guinness will have a branded beer garden at every stadium hosting matches this year as well as signage and other traditional assets.

In addition to the title sponsorship with Guinness, tournament organizers have secured deals with MasterCard/Citi Private Pass, Pepsi, GM/Chevrolet, Aon, Geico, Air Force Reserves and windshield wiper company Trico. Matt Grandis, vice president for corporate partnerships and media sales at Insignia Sports & Entertainment, which is selling the event’s sponsorships on behalf of Relevent, said that deals in the wireless and athletic apparel categories are expected still, too.

Both Insignia and Relevent are part of RSE Ventures, the sports, entertainment and technology business co-owned by Matt Higgins and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

Relevent officials said sponsorship revenue for this year’s event is expected to be up from 2013 but declined to provide specific dollar-figure amounts.

With the opening whistle for this year’s event still to come, Relevent is already anticipating 2015 and looking beyond North America, as well. Working with RSE Ventures’ Catalyst Media Group in Asia, Relevent aims to stage a tournament in China and Australia next summer. That event would feature six European clubs, with three of them already confirmed, though their identities were not disclosed.

HJ Mai is a writer for sister publication SportsBusiness Daily Global.

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