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Volume 21 No. 34
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ICC elevates status in year five

Real Madrid’s match against Barcelona attracted more than 66,000 fans to Hard Rock Stadium.
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For Charlie Stillitano, the easiest way to see that this year’s International Champions Cup was different was to read tournament coverage by newspapers across Europe.

“Whether it was the front-page stories leading up to the matches with Barcelona, Madrid or Manchester, the whole tenor was like it was a regular-season match,” said Stillitano, chairman and co-founder of Relevent Sports, which operates the tournament. “I don’t pretend that they said this was a Champions League final, but to me, it was the first time that they took this tournament as a serious tournament with serious preparation from the teams, the managers and players.”

The 2017 U.S. edition of the ICC, the fifth year of the tournament, was headlined by the first U.S. editions of two of the sport’s most classic derbies, or rivalry matchups — Barcelona versus Real Madrid, and Manchester United versus Manchester City, which drew more than 66,000 and 67,000 fans in Miami and Houston, respectively. Combined, the tournament’s 12 matches in 10 markets drew more than 680,000 attendees.

Even as the event has consistently drawn the biggest clubs in Europe, many have viewed the ICC as more of a collection of friendly matches as opposed to a competition.

Stillitano said the enhanced view of the tournament by international media, the increased support from corporations and media rights partner ESPN, and the continued interest of the clubs to participate, make this a seminal moment for the ICC’s growth. Club managers also are taking the matches more seriously, playing their stars more often and for more minutes.

He said the tournament is now profitable and is looking at new initiatives and strategies to build out its reach during the actual matches, and into the other 11 months of the year. The ICC has been supported by more than $100 million in investment over its history by Stephen Ross, the chairman and co-founder of parent company RSE Ventures. RSE runs and operates all aspects of the ICC, for which teams are paid millions to participate.

To chart future growth, Relevent Sports has promoted Daniel Sillman as its new CEO. Sillman, the director of business development for RSE Ventures where he’s helped lead new investments for the company since 2014, was previously the CEO and founder of Compass Management Group, a business and lifestyle management firm for athletes and entertainers. David Tyler, Relevent’s former CEO, will stay with the company as a strategic adviser from Europe.

For this year’s ICC, Sillman focused on building the event week around the two key matchups, which included everything from collaborations with local artists and businesses to Drake and DJ Khaled concerts.

“When I look back at all those activations that went on and the energy it helped to create, for me it really showed where this business could go in terms of entertainment,” Sillman said. “I think there is an opportunity to make this a location-based entertainment business, with the sporting component in the middle but with a festival-type atmosphere around our matches.”

Part of building the ICC brand will include other ancillary programming to make the ICC a 12-month event. Relevent Sports is working on a youth tournament akin to the Little League World Series that could see months of qualifying for U.S.-based teams, culminating in a tournament that would see those academies face off against ones from the ICC competitors.

It also will entail better harnessing the entertainment and music worlds to build out the days around the matches in all cities.

“We have a blank canvas to tell the story of the world’s sport in the biggest sports and entertainment market in the world,” Sillman said. “We’ve done a tremendous job these last five years, but I think this year shows that this can be a tipping point to grow even further.”

Complicating that growth next year will be the 2018 World Cup, which may keep many of soccer’s biggest stars out of the U.S. However, Stillitano said the tournament may shift dates later into August and may be even more compacted to ensure that more players would be available for the matches.

“These teams know how sophisticated the fans that come to the stadium and watch on TV are in this country,” Stillitano said. “The U.S. market matters to all of these clubs, and not only do we not want to be in a position where teams are coming and they don’t have their stars, but they realize they don’t want that either, as their brands will suffer just as much as ours would.”