Rumour has it that this summer West Ham United may be packing their bags and heading to the United States of America to play well-supported and popular Major League side the Seattle Sounders.
It’s not the Sounders’ first Premier League game – annoyingly they’ve already played host to Chelsea and Spurs – but it could be an important date in the global branding and fan base diary for West Ham United as we look to increase our global supporters.
Tours of the American market are becoming more and more important to development of a global fan base. There are pockets of Hammers’ supporter clubs stretching across America (the New York City Hammers are incredible, loyal, and welcoming people who I’m pleased to have watched some games with over the years) but it’s a tricky business to tap into the wealth of American people who are new to the Premier League, and on the fence as to who to associate with.
After all, most people in America are only just now opening their eyes to football in general. Interest in the beautiful game was near non-existent 20 years ago. The exception to this rule is applied to those in first and second-generation immigrant families, as those people tended to retain an association with the clubs and country teams from their homeland (as did my Hackney-born, West Ham-supporting father.)
When I grew up – in the late nineties and early noughties in the third biggest city in Pennsylvania – we had to drive an hour to Philadelphia just to be able to watch the Premier League on TV. There were few options for viewing English football and, as a result, people had no opportunity to fall in West Ham could be heading Stateside in bid to reach a new audience THE AMERICAN DREAM love with the sport. As football became more of a big-money sport, and David Beckham became an attractive global ambassador of football, Americans started to take more of an interest in the game – although they still insist on calling it soccer which is, admittedly, annoying.
The creation of the MLS opened up an opportunity for Americans to associate with a local team and from there interest spread abroad to foreign teams who had been perfecting football for years – although much of the American fan base chose to associate with the more successful teams of that era – i.e. the Manchester Uniteds and Liverpools of the world. With this interest in foreign sport, TV companies took notice of the money to be made, and Premier League football is now accessible to the American public. In fact, nearly all three o’clock kick offs are available to watch on TVs across the country.
It’s great news for the Premier League in general, but more tricky for individual clubs who mainly live outside the ‘top four’ in the league. After all, how do you ‘sell’ your club to the American public? How do you convince people who have no association or loyalty to any regions in England to chose to support West Ham United – particularly given that we haven’t been doing an awful lot of winning since the sport exploded in the USA?
The answer is that you need to create a personal association from them to you – and this is why preseason tours to that market are so crucial. Fans of Premier League football would come to any game in their local area that includes any BPL team. West Ham playing an exhibition match in Seattle would be a memorable occasion for those already supporting the Sounders, and would most likely lead on to us being their ‘English’ team to support. That’s more foreign awareness, foreign fans, and – crucially – more foreign money coming into the support of West Ham United.
A trip to visit the very well-supported Seattle Sounders would be such wonderful news for West Ham in terms of ‘cracking’ America and, provided we bring our big players and put on a heck of a show for them, we can then expect those legions of fans to retain an emotional – and financial – investment in our team for years to come.