The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Brand Strategy Sports & Fitness Football

There’s a fortune to be made by European football clubs in the US – who’ll win it?

By Neil Joyce, CEO of CLV Group

No Brainer


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Find out more

July 9, 2024 | 8 min read

As European football clubs step up innovative partnership approaches, CLV Group’s Neil Joyce argues that, if they want to capture the hearts (and wallets) of global fans, they need aim higher than t-shirt sales.

Fans at a football stadium

If they're not targeting younger and US audiences, football clubs are missing a trick says CLV Group's Neil Joyce / Emerson Vieira via Unsplash

The 2024 summer of sport is in full swing, not least with the Uefa Euros generating football fever and a surge of sports-related brand collaborations.

There’s plenty for football fans to get excited about. Puma’s global campaign featuring both football and Olympic stars is a first for the brand, – with creative that reinforces the speed and excitement of sport. Elsewhere, English Premier League winners Manchester City recently announced a partnership with World Wrestling Entertainment. And luxury partnerships like German footballer Jonathan Tah’s collab with fashion brand MCM offers fans the opportunity to engage with clubs in a premium way (the capsule collection offers leather weekend bags for a cool €1,300); David Beckham’s recruitment as ambassador for Chinese tech giant AliExpress will help both to tap into new customer markets.

Football, in other words, is starting to look at new collaborations to unlock new audiences – converting undecided and new generations of fans not through tried-and-tested approaches, but through innovation.

Powered by AI

Explore frequently asked questions

How innovative partnerships bring new audiences

Brand collaborations are key revenue earners for clubs, and something they can control amid so much uncertainty (broadcast rights, media dollars, and league prize money).

And while this summer has brought the usual flurry of new football kit launches (a football merchandising staple) the industry needs to think more creatively if clubs are going to generate the kind of revenues needed to stay competitive, relevant, and on the right side of the financial restrictions.

Just last week, Manchester United FC launched its 2024/25 ‘home’ jersey across traditional channels with high-tech brand Snapdragon as its front-of-shirt sponsor. Just as exciting was an immersive launch of collabs with Roblox and Adidas. This will give the club access to gen Z fans in key markets, going beyond just making the kit available by adding the mascot and other accessories as purchasable items.

The club will likely be able to further use this collaboration to see which users bought the virtual jersey, then target that segment with discount offers on the real thing.

Play ball!

Football clubs are among the biggest exports of the sports industry. With social media and streaming technology, they’re no longer confined to postcode boundaries. Top clubs’ biggest fanbases thirty years ago would have been based a stones-throw away from their stadiums. Today, our data shows that they are often based on the other side of the world.

Consider, for example, commercial opportunities in the US. Soccer has seen a surge in popularity stateside, with Premier League clubs rocking up at US stadiums over the summer. While some see US tours as a tick-box exercise, others are recognizing a huge opportunity to capitalize on new markets.

Our data shows 44% of US-based soccer fans are undecided about which European football club to support – that’s 36 million new fans waiting to be engaged.

In financial terms, this equates to billions of dollars in the longer term, or a $321m slice of the market per season, for Premier League and top European clubs.

To do so, clubs must start thinking differently.

Clubs need to think innovatively and create strategic new techniques to reach and leverage global fandoms. Our recent research found that the average UK Premier League fan is around 42 years old – in contrast with the US, where 50% of football fans are under 45.

The stardust effect

How do we reach that younger audience and tap into their buying power?

By embracing direct-to-consumer digital propositions, while continuing to optimize traditional products such as match day revenue and merch sales.

Then there’s what I call the ‘stardust effect’.

Take LeBron James’ recent partnership with Liverpool FC, or Taylor Swift’s appearance at the Super Bowl, which provided a massive financial boost to the NFL (not to mention the impact at Liverpool’s Anfield since her UK tour).

Even Juventus’s recent ‘Team Jay’ series, designed to engage its younger fanbase through anime, is a step in the right direction.

What’s next?

Clubs need to think outside the box with new collaborations and revenues through partnerships.

Rather than the players themselves modeling clothing lines in campaign advertorials, imagine celebrities from the world of music, gaming, and other sports taking center stage, intersecting with the other interests of global football fans.

Simply sticking your best player front-and-center of a fashion campaign isn’t going to cut it. Fans want something meaningfully tailored to their interests both inside and outside of sport. Clubs can give it to them.

Thus, clubs can tap into new revenues and funds, but also enhance the wider experiences for fans across the world.

Where the club benefits, the fans could do too. New revenues mean further investment in transfer budgets, wages and club infrastructure, plus tangible benefits for domestic fans with cheaper season tickets, ticket price reductions, or price freezes.

With Profit and Sustainability rules in place and talk of even more robust new financial rules in the pipeline, it’s key for clubs to unlock new revenues now. Marketing teams must start thinking outside the box; we know the US market is ready and waiting.

All it will take is for one Premier League football club to successfully crack the code and connect with ‘locked’ fans with the desired content, launch the right brand collaboration in a new way, and deliver value propositions that are relevant to US fans.

If they don’t, the tide of organic growth of Major League Soccer (not to mention European heavyweights like Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG and Bayern Munich) will be there to seize the opportunity.

The goalposts have shifted, unlocking global fans is now possible. But are clubs ready to embrace it?

You can download CLV’s latest report of winning US fandoms here. For more play-by-play on sports marketing in 2024, check out our focus week hub.

Brand Strategy Sports & Fitness Football

Content by The Drum Network member:

No Brainer

We're an award-winning Digital PR, SEO and Content agency that delivers data-led and results-driven creative campaigns which really work.

Find out more

More from Brand Strategy

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +