Liverpool FC’s 3-1 loss against Manchester United on Monday night in the Guinness International Champions Cup final at Sun Life Stadium was a public battle in a larger war.
With American attention on soccer increasing during and after the World Cup, Liverpool and the rest of Europe’s top clubs are trying to position themselves as “America’s team.”
Liverpool chief commercial officer Billy Hogan said his club has a chance to earn the distinction.
The team boasts more than 20 million American fans thanks in part to a Boston office focused on building the U.S. fan base, and America ranks behind only the United Kingdom in terms of the amount of Liverpool memorabilia bought online, Hogan said.
He credited some of Liverpool’s popularity to the team’s style of play.
“We’re playing an attacking style of football,” he said. “We were voted during the season last year as the most exciting team to watch in the Premier League.”
Liverpool has a slight additional advantage thanks to its American ownership group, headed by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry. LeBron James also owns a part of the organization through a deal with Henry.
Liverpool previously played in Boston, Baltimore and Toronto in 2012. This time around, the team played in Boston, Chicago, New York and Charlotte before coming to Miami.
In addition to connecting with American fans, the organization used the trip to strengthen its relationship with U.S. sponsors. In Charlotte, North Carolina, players jokingly learned lacrosse basics with Warrior equipment, and Liverpool alumni Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler stopped by a North Miami Dunkin’ Donuts before Monday’s match.
“We don’t just want to come in, play a match and leave,” Hogan said. “We try to leave a lasting legacy behind. We spend a lot of time working through the LFC foundation … but also on the commercial side, there are a number of different American partners of the club and our ability to work with them to do those types of events where fans get closer to the club — that’s what this is all about.”
The size of the American market European clubs are competing for seems to be increasing, too.
A year after the inaugural International Champions Cup drew roughly 330,000 total attendees, the combined attendance nearly doubled this year. Relevent Sports estimated a total of 650,000 fans came out this year. That includes 109,318 who watched Manchester United and Real Madrid at the University of Michigan last week, breaking the record for soccer attendance in the United States previously set during the 1984 Olympics.
Though it was technically a preseason exhibition game, Manchester United coach Louis Van Gaal and Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers played most of their starters in pursuit of the ICC trophy Monday.
Still installing the 3-4-1-2 formation that helped his Netherlands squad finish third in the 2014 World Cup, van Gaal once again trotted out Ashley Young in his new left wing-back position while charging Spaniard Juan Mata, captain Wayne Rooney and Javier “Chicharito“ Hernandez with leading the attack. The Mexican striker was a fan favorite Monday, even as reports swirled of a potential transfer to Juventus.