Ever since the world watched a 14-year old Freddy Adu make his professional debut in MLS in 2004, fans in the U.S., as well as the global soccer community, have longed for an American superstar on the world’s stage. From his small screen debut in the memorable Sierra Mist ad to his performance at the 2007 U-20 FIFA World Cup, his early success was just a taste of what the American market could offer.
For many leagues around the world, the U.S. is seen as the market of the future. The size, the disposable income, the love of sports, the television and sponsorship opportunities, and the largely untapped soccer infrastructure put it in a pole position as an area with major opportunities ahead.
Christian Pulisic’s summer 2019 move to Chelsea from Borussia Dortmund is seen by many as the Premier League’s direct connection to the nascent U.S. market. We asked three members of our team who have worked with the Premier League or a Premier League side what the effect of Christian’s record transfer means both on and off the field.
Harrison McIntire, a Digital Strategist at GESM who has helped shape and implement the Premier League’s U.S. digital/social strategy believes this is American soccer’s Magnum Opus to date.
It is everything America has been craving. The Premier League is the biggest sporting league in the world. If you were to poll every person on Earth to name one professional sports league, the Premier League would undoubtedly be the resounding answer. While, yes, Liga MX reigns supreme in the states in TV viewership and app downloads, it may not be for much longer.
While it’s only a snapshot in time, the heightened engagement of @PLinUSA, the Premier League’s U.S. Twitter and Instagram handle, on the day that he signed was a significant spike. It also became the top trending topic in the United States.
— Premier League USA (@PLinUSA) January 2, 2019
This is all before Christian has laced up his cleats for a match in the Premier League and America will be watching when he finally does next season.
Chris Stearns, a Digital Account Manager at Gilt Edge who manages and oversees the U.S. marketing for multiple Premier League sides knows that an already popular young man is about become even more of a household name:
Christian Pulisic is undoubtedly the face of American soccer at the ripe age of 20 years old. He’s not only the future of the USMNT but also the present. After spending his entire professional career with Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, his move to Chelsea and the Premier League is a big deal for soccer fans and marketers alike.
Starting with this summer’s Gold Cup, the general American public is going to be seeing a lot more of Christian Pulisic than they’ve been accustomed to. After Concacaf’s summer tournament is over, the focus will shift to the upcoming European club season. The Bundesliga is a great league for player development but ultimately lacks general market awareness and viewership of the Premier League in the United States. Between August and December of 2018, Chelsea was shown in 17 Premier League matches with an average viewership of 499K, while Dortmund’s Bundesliga games appeared 10 times at an average of 106K viewers. Expect those numbers for Chelsea to increase next season.
While Christian has a more reserved off-the-field personality, that hasn’t detracted sponsors from flocking to him already. From Nike and Gatorade to his hometown chocolate company Hershey’s, he has already established himself as a legitimate brand anchor. More brands will give him a call throughout the next few years ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and he will undoubtedly be the face of every major American-focused marketing campaign for Chelsea, NBC and the Premier League, and U.S. Soccer.
Dillon Payne, an Experiential Activation Coordinator at Gilt Edge who has worked with multiple first division clubs domestically and abroad, believes Christian can be the tipping point for Chelsea fandom in the U.S.:
Christian Pulisic’s move to Chelsea from Borussia Dortmund, to me, feels like the beginning of a new epoch for the beautiful game here in the United States. For the first time, a genuine super club splashed a record sum for an American who spent the bulk of his formative years on the pitch within the U.S. Soccer system. For young players in this country, Christian will be a guiding star, a goal that he/she can strive toward. I imagine bedrooms with walls lined with Pulisic Chelsea posters as well as jerseys that read “Pulisic 22.” For fans of the game, it’s an added incentive to tune into NBC Sports every time The Blues play a Premier League match. For non-fans of the sport, it’s a reason to pick a new team when you see Christian doing an interview for ESPN about the new season and his new club.
All three scenarios are ones that were likely envisioned by the powers that be at Chelsea Football Club. For many teams in Europe, the American market continues to be a target, one that has seen many different attempts to conquer. Those attempts come in the form of summer tours, digital marketing efforts and targeted sponsorships among other things. However, Chelsea’s purchase of Christian Pulisic is not a drop in the bucket. It’s a significant investment into a player they see as not only an asset to their team, but to their brand. As the 2019 Premier League season comes around, it will be very exciting to see the metrics that surround what should be called the “Pulisic Effect.” Moreover, it will be exciting to see the marketing efforts the club focuses on around their new star. Either way, this is the start of a new era for soccer in the United States and it will be interesting to look back years on to see the value this brought to Christian, the club, and fans in the U.S.
Christian’s future is bright both on and off the field and with so much potential, he’s an American player who can impact not only Chelsea’s bottom line, but also their collection of silverware.