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Sport: Football: Clubs take to the skies in global marketing push to spread the Premier League gospel
[July 21, 2014]

Sport: Football: Clubs take to the skies in global marketing push to spread the Premier League gospel

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) At different points this weekend, the bleary-eyed footballers of Newcastle United and West Ham United will step wearily into the southern hemisphere winter. While other clubs fly to North America or Thailand, these two sets of modern-day missionaries are undertaking 24,000-mile return journeys to New Zealand to spread the Premier League gospel while playing friendlies against Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC in Dunedin, Auckland and Wellington.

When it comes to summer tours, Premier League clubs' marketing departments like nothing better than tackling new frontiers. Merchandising managers dream of parking their commercial tanks on foreign front lawns - or at least planting a flag, in club colours, on hitherto alien soil.

If, privately at least, Alan Pardew's players may be less than enthused about going so far for a short stay - Newcastle will spend only six days in the South Pacific region after arriving tomorrow - rights to televise their friendlies have been snapped up by 20 countries stretching from Australia to America and Israel to Indonesia.

It is the first time in 29 years that leading English teams are visiting New Zealand and Felicity Croft, West Ham's commercial director, could not be more delighted that her club have set themselves apart from the nine Premier League rivals who opted to head for the ultra-fashionable United States this summer. "It's a long way to go but definitely worth it," she says. "We'll use the tour to develop our fan base and commercial opportunities around the world." During a 12-day stay, Sam Allardyce's side, who arrive today, will stage open training sessions, with their defender Winston Reid, New Zealand's captain, pictured, a star attraction.

"We're giving fans the chance to really touch and feel a Premier League club," Croft says. "We've got a large programme of exciting community events and we're going to be talking to fans about what they want from us. Football's landscape is changing and we want to ensure we're at the forefront of commercial deals so we can compete in the Premier League." With "soccer" finally capturing North American hearts and minds - and the United States providing none of the counterfeit problems confronting official merchandisers in east Asia - it is no surprise that Arsenal, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion will have crossed the Atlantic by the end of the month.

Perhaps surprisingly, Swansea City, currently in Chicago, commanded the highest television audience for a Premier League match in the US last season. On NBC - where Robbie Mustoe, the former Middlesbrough midfielder, is a key analyst - more than 1.2m viewers watched Garry Monk's side beat Cardiff 3-0 in February.

Steve Parish, Crystal Palace's chairman, seems anxious to jump on the bandwagon. "America's a big market so we'll be PR-ing the hell out of it and make it aware of Crystal Palace," he says. "I'll try to ease the burden on Tony Pulis as he's got to get the team ready over there but he'll still do as much as he can to promote the club. Tony's compiled a great list of things we can give away that the fans out there will like." Only a few years ago Palace might have been joining those Premier League peers flocking to the Orient but only Everton and Leicester City - who have Thai sponsors and owners respectively - are heading to east Asia, where they will play each other in Bangkok.

With South Africa similarly slipping out of summer touring fashion, it will be interesting to see where is in vogue come the new year, when clubs begin organising their 2015 tours.

Last winter Pardew - who urgently needs a good start to the season and, significantly, has left Hatem Ben Arfa behind - could easily have identified several attractive pre-season programmes without involving 30 hour each way journeys down under. Unfortunately such plans would not have dovetailed quite so neatly with Mike Ashley's global expansion blueprint for Sports Direct.

The Newcastle owner's principal business has recently announced plans to launch in Australia and New Zealand, opening three large stores while also forming a partnership with a leading internet retailer.

If, to differing degrees, branding plays a big part in every club's overseas expeditions, the human factor looms large too. After all, summer is a time for not merely laying solid fitness foundations but bonding - on and off the pitch.

There is the "what happens on tour stays on tour" aspect of things. "Wives and girlfriends hate pre-season trips abroad," acknowledges one former Premier League press officer. "They know the boys will be given the odd night off when they head to bars and nightclubs and there'll be plenty of pulling - or 'birding' - opportunities." In rather different contexts, Brendan Rodgers, Mauricio Pochettino and Louis van Gaal must "seize the moment" during their American forays. As Rodgers' Liverpool settle into headquarters at Harvard University and begin adjusting to life after Luis Suarez, Pochettino aims to imbue Tottenham's squad with his hard-pressing philosophy and Van Gaal wants to make an immediate impact.

Manuel Pellegrini's new rival frequently gives the impression he is more than a mere mortal. Yet even the indefatigable 62-year-old Dutchman surely faces the real risk of burnout after swapping his orange tie for a red one and switching seamlessly from choreographing Holland's World Cup campaign to flying Stateside as United's public face.

These exercises frequently provoke conflicts of interest between clubs' business and football departments; managers resent being asked to press the flesh at corporate functions when they could be more usefully employed talking tactics on practice pitches.

Already Van Gaal has hinted at such creative tensions by making pointed remarks about the extent of the marketing commitments demanded by directors who simultaneously expect him to dethrone Pellegrini's City. "It's not always easy to fulfil commercial and football expectations," he says. "That's my big challenge." Jose Mourinho is sufficiently concerned about post-World Cup fatigue to have persuaded Roman Abramovich that, for once, Chelsea could do without a lucrative summer tour. Mourinho's players featured for more minutes and covered greater distances than those from any Premier League rival during Brazil 2014. Small wonder he believes an Austrian training camp will prove the most restorative springboard for a title challenge.

Another big fan of Austria, Arsene Wenger, has long frowned on trans-continental summer tours but even Arsenal are facing Thierry Henry's Red Bulls in New York as the Gunners make their first US visit since 1989.

With Sunderland striving to gain a commercial foothold in southern and west Africa - Nigeria is a particular target - Lagos probably loomed large in Gus Poyet's nightmares. Instead he has persuaded his board that squad fitness matters more than exploiting merchandising leads.

"People need to realise pre-season is hard and players need to suffer a little bit, mentally as well as physically," says Poyet whose squad are bound for a Portuguese training camp. "The more you suffer now, the less you'll suffer later. If you get pre-season right you'll be ready." Friendly faces The top-flight's travels this summer: Arsenal 19 Jul Boreham Wood (A) 26 Jul New York Red Bulls (A) 2 Aug Benfica (H) 3 Aug Monaco (H) Aston Villa 17 Jul Mansfield 1-3 Aston Villa 24 Jul FC Dallas (A) 27 Jul Houston Dynamo (A) 30 Jul Chesterfield (A) 2 Aug Groningen (A) 9 Aug Parma (H) Burnley 20 Jul Grossklein (A) 26 Jul Accrington Stanley (A) 29 Jul Preston North End (A) 2 Aug Blackpool (A) 5 Aug Celta Vigo (H) Chelsea 16 Jul Wycombe 0-5 Chelsea 19 Jul AFC Wimbledon (A) 23 Jul RZ Pellets (A) 27 Jul Olimpija Ljubljana (A) 30 Jul Vitesse Arnhem (A) 3 Aug Werder Bremen (A) 10 Aug Ferencvaros (A) 12 Aug Real Sociedad (H) Crystal Palace 16 Jul GAK Graz 1-13 Palace 24 Jul Columbus Crew (A) 26 Jul Philadelphia Union (A) 29 Jul Richmond Kickers (A) 2 Aug Brentford (A) Everton 22 Jul Tranmere Rovers (A) 27 Jul Leicester City (N) 3 Aug Porto (H) 6 Aug Celta Vigo (N) 9 Aug SC Paderborn (A) Hull City 21 Jul North Ferriby Utd (A) 21 Jul Harrogate Town (A) 23 Jul York City (A) 26 Jul Barnsley (A) 10 Aug VfB Stuttgart (A) Leicester City 22 Jul Ilkeston (A) 27 Jul Everton (N) 30 Jul Walsall (A) 2 Aug Preston North End (A) 4 Aug MK Dons (A) 5 Aug Rotherham Utd (A) 9 Aug Werder Bremen (H) Liverpool 16 Jul Brondby 2-1 Liverpool 19 Jul Preston North End (A) 24 Jul Roma (N) 27 Jul Olympiakos (N) 31 Jul Manchester City (N) 2 Aug Milan (N) 10 Aug Borussia Dortmund (H) Manchester City 13 Jul Dundee 2-0 Man City 18 Jul Hearts 1-2 Man City 24 Jul Sporting Kansas City (A) 27 Jul Milan (N) 31 Jul Liverpool (N) 2 Aug Olympiakos (N) Manchester United 24 Jul Los Angeles Galaxy (A) 26 Jul Roma (N) 30 Jul Internazionale (N) 2 Aug Real Madrid (N) 12 Aug Valencia (H) Newcastle United 15 Jul Oldham 2-1 Newcastle 22 Jul Sydney (N) 26 Jul Wellington Phoenix (A) 30 Jul Sheffield Weds (A) 2 Aug Malaga (N) 3 Aug Schalke (A) 5 Aug Huddersfield Town (A) 10 Aug Real Sociedad (H) Queens Park Rangers 22 Jul Rot Weiss Erfurt (A) 26 Jul RB Leipzig (A) 29 Jul Leyton Orient (A) 30 Jul Southend Utd (A) 2 Aug Shamrock Rovers (A) 5 Aug Athlone Town (A) 9 Aug PAOK (H) Southampton 15 Jul EHC 0-4 Soton 17 Jul KSK Hasselt 0-6 Soton 21 Jul Swindon Town (A) 25 Jul Bournemouth (A) 31 Jul Brighton (A) 9 Aug Bayer Leverkusen (H) Stoke City 20 Jul Borussia M'gladbach 26 Jul 1860 Munich (A) 29 Jul Schalke (N) 2 Aug Burton Albion (A) 3 Aug Blackburn Rovers (A) 6 Aug Real Betis (H) 9 Aug Freiburg (A) Sunderland 19 Jul Darlington 1883 (A) 22 Jul Carlisle Utd (A) 23 Jul Hartlepool (A) 29 Jul Recreativo de Huelva (A) 30 Jul Nacional (A) 2 Aug Vitoria Setubal (A) Swansea City 17 Jul Chivas 1-1 Swansea 20 Jul Minnesota Utd (A) 27 Jul Plymouth Argyle (A) 29 Jul Exeter City (A) 1 Aug Bournemouth (A) 2 Aug Reading (A) 9 Aug Villarreal (H) Tottenham Hotspur 19 Jul Seattle Sounders (A) 23 Jul Toronto (A) 26 Jul Chicago Fire (A) 2 Aug Celtic (A) 9 Aug Schalke (H) West Bromwich A 12 Jul WBA 2-0 Bury 15 Jul Shrewsbury 1-2 WBA 22 Jul Sacramento Republic (A) 26 Jul Sacramento Republic (A) 2 Aug Nottingham Forest (A) 5 Aug Port Vale (A) 9 Aug Porto (H) West Ham United 12 Jul Stevenage 2-2 West Ham 16 Jul Ipswich 0-0 West Ham 23 Jul Wellington Phoenix (N) 26 Jul Sydney (N) 2 Aug Schalke (A) 3 Aug Malaga (N) 9 Aug Sampdoria (H) Captions: The New Zealand captain, Winston Reid, will be the main attraction during West Ham's 12-day stay in the country (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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