Pro soccer in the U.S. is having a breakthrough summer, even if American teams aren't a part of it. British club Manchester United, probably the most valuable sports franchise in the world (about $1 billion), has planted its flag in America during a four-city exhibition tour that saw Man U matched against some of Europe's glamour teams, including Glasgow Celtic from Scotland (a 4-0 win), and Juventus from Italy (4-1). According to promoters, it took only one hour for Man U to sell out its Aug. 3 game against Barcelona at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field. Likewise for its Giants Stadium appearance against Juventus. All this without the flamboyantly blond David Beckham, auctioned off to Real Madrid earlier this summer for $40 million.
How to explain this phenomenon in a country where the resident pro league often struggles for attention? "Man U has a huge draw from [Americans] who have only come to soccer lately," says Jim Trecker of ChampionsWorld, the New Jersey promoter of the team's tour. The U.S. is seen by Man U as an immature but potentially lucrative market. To keep brand awareness up when it returns to Britain, the team has negotiated an agreement with the New York YankeeNets LLC, parent of the baseball team and basketball's New Jersey Nets, to carry Man U's games on the company's yes network and use each other's distribution outlets to sell merchandise.