Chris Stearns

Welcome to the Age of the “Friendly Derby”

The Manchester Derby in Houston.

El Clásico in Miami.

These aren’t dreams. These are actual matches that took place on American soil this summer during the annual International Champions Cup. They’re also big business and something that might become a more regular thing in the future.

Derbies are the most hotly contested matches in soccer. Whether it’s between city/regional rivals or historic powerhouses within a country, fans across the globe always circle these matches when schedules are released. They’re the matches that attract the highest attendances of the season and the most eyeballs glued to televisions and other devices to watch. Derbies also generate high volumes of social conversation as fans of each team talk up their superiority over their rival.

Preseason exhibition tournaments hosted in the States involving European, and at times MLS, teams started back in 2009 with the World Football Challenge. The European clubs were able to travel to different American cities for team bonding, training, and commercial opportunities while MLS teams were able to host the big name players for their fans. Following three tournaments between 2009 and 2012 – there was none in 2010 due to the World Cup – the International Champions Cup replaced the World Football Challenge for the summer of 2013.

Since then, the ICC has taken off and has hosted competitions in four different countries across three continents. In addition to the United States, ICC tournaments featuring European teams have also been hosted in Australia, China, and Singapore. While those are smaller than the 8-team one based in the US, it showcases the growth and appetite for these matchups all over the world.

While Houston hosted the first Manchester Derby outside of the United Kingdom back on July 21, it wasn’t the first time that the fixture was scheduled for the ICC. In summer of 2016, the two Premier League powerhouses were scheduled to play in Beijing as part of the ICC, but the game was ultimately called off due to the stadium having an unplayable surface from torrential downpours.

This year, nearly 70,000 fans packed into Houston’s NRG Stadium on a Thursday night to witness history. This was the first Manchester Derby since the terrorist attack at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester which added another layer to the event, with both teams donning special worker bee patches, a symbol of the city, and donating proceeds to a relief fund. Manchester United player Daley Blind summed it up well before the match:

“It will be a friendly, it will be preseason… but from the inside everyone feels like it is a derby and it will always be that way,” Blind said. “It is always special to play games like that. The derby always brings something extra and it will definitely be like that in Houston.”

 El Clásico

Miami was the perfect American home for El Clásico. While the match easily could have sold out any stadium in the United States, it was played in front of an intimate 66,014 fans at Hard Rock Stadium. Miami is one of the most vibrant cities in the world and a major hub of Hispanic culture. beIN Sports, the television provider with broadcast rights to La Liga has their U.S. headquarters in the city.

Needless to say, the match and everything leading up to it was a hit. Leading up to the match, Real Madrid announced their first U.S. restaurant in Miami is slated to open early in 2018. Nearly 36,000 fans attended a training session before the match. It was also the third-most talked about sporting event during the week of July 24 – 30, bested only by UFC and the Gold Cup Final between USA and Mexico.

Why We Will See More “Friendly Derbies”

  1.  There Is Appetite For Them

Not only friendly derbies, but ICC matches in general. The 5th edition of the International Champions Cup has wrapped up in the States and there are no signs of it slowing down. With a mix of NFL, MLS, and MLB stadiums this time around, the 12 matches in the States saw 683,406 people come through stadium turnstiles to watch the matches, an average of almost 57,000 per match.

In 2014, the tournament hosted what’s still the most-attended soccer match on United States soil when 109,318 fans packed Michigan Stadium to see Manchester United versus Real Madrid. This year, 93,098 fans watched Manchester City defeat Real Madrid at the Los Angels Coliseum, a venue-record, for a stadium that has hosted multiple Mexican National Team matches and Gold Cup Finals between the U.S. and Mexico.


  1. A Revenue Stream is Present

Sponsorship. Ticketing. Media rights. All of these are major contributors to the ICC revenue and they continue to grow or remain steady. While there are no official numbers for the 2017 ICC at this time, sponsorship revenue increased 60% between 2015 and 2016.

For El Clasico in Miami, the cheapest tickets started at $200 for Standing Room Only and there was an estimated $15 million in ticketing revenue for that single match. Television broadcast partners are present in more than 170 countries. The portfolio of official sponsors and partners is also growing.



  1. Soccer Is Cool

Our sport is continuing its growth in the United States. We have more televised soccer matches than any other country in the world. That access combined with social media has made players and teams from across the globe more accessible than ever. Whether you’re a casual soccer fan from the West Coast, part of a Premier League Supporters Club who meets every Saturday or Sunday at your local bar in Nashville, an ex-pat from Italy, or a celebrity, soccer fandom is everywhere in the States. With the best players from the best leagues routinely coming here, fans are going to go watch them play.

What’s Next For “Friendly Derbies” 

While nothing is confirmed, talks are in the books for Germany’s Der Klassiker between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund to be played in Chicago as part of the 2018 ICC. There’s no shortage of other potential derbies including the North London Derby, Liverpool-Manchester United, Derby della Madonnina between AC Milan and Inter Milan, and more.

While the 2017-18 European club season is only kicking off now, we’re already anticipating next summer’s ICC on the heels of the 2018 World Cup.

Categories: Europhile, Event Seeker, Featured, Finances, International Champions Cup, Premier League, Soccer Marketing, Sponsorship