Europe's most famous soccer teams are having a busy summer wooing fans in that longtime soccer wasteland, the United States. Scottish champion Glasgow Celtic, English powerhouses Manchester United and Chelsea, and Italian champ AC Milan are among nine teams on tour, playing in such cities as Seattle, Cleveland and Philadelphia, often to packed stadiums.
For the players, it's a chance for a preseason tune-up in the perfect environment away from their rabid fans. "The facilities are second to none," says Chelsea Football Club CEO Peter Kenyon. But more important, the big clubs now see the U.S. as a vital market in the race to establish a global brand and cash in an ocean away from home. Soccer is wildly popular in Europe, but it's a financial mess. Only teams that have global reach will be able to afford the star players who ensure winning results year after year. Man U. was the first to launch a U.S. strategy, teaming with the New York Yankees in a joint marketing deal. It even issues an American Man U. credit card. Another team reaching into the U.S. is Celtic, long the favored club of the Irish and Scottish diaspora. "We've got a million fans in North America," says David McNally, the club's sales director.
This summer fans can see the Hoops in action and send their kids to Celtic soccer camps. But Celtic has its eye on an even bigger market: the 20 million Yanks now playing the game. Says McNally: "We'd like to get those players to fall in love with Celtic."