Man Utd vs Real Madrid could be a play-off for US hearts

Aug 1, 2014
Jonathan Harwood

A crowd of 109,000 will watch two iconic teams. Who will win the battle for their support?

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Manchester United will play Real Madrid in front of a crowd of 109,000 in Michigan on Saturday, the biggest ever crowd for a football match in the US. And although the game is billed as a friendly, it is seen within the game as a battle for supremacy in the massive American market.

The popularity of the World Cup in the US this summer has prompted a scramble among the big European teams and leagues to establish themselves in a rapidly expanding market on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Premier League is already well watched in the US. All 380 games were shown on TV last season, and the time difference means games tend not to clash with big domestic sporting events such as NFL. That has allowed football to develop a solid fan base, which is now set to explode.

"The real soccer battle is the one taking place outside of the States, which sees the Premier League, La Liga and superpower clubs such as United and Real aiming to claim ownership of the American money pit which is typified by the huge crowd turning out in Michigan," says Mark Ogden of the Daily Telegraph.

The Premier League has a head start, but La Liga has made a concerted effort "to raise its profile in the States this summer", says the Telegraph. "What really projects soccer to an American audience, however, is a big event," adds Ogden, which explains why so many will turn out to watch Cristiano Ronaldo's European champions take on Man United.

The game could prove to be more intense than the average pre-season warm up and the 109,000 spectators "should be entertained by some of the world's best players from two of the most iconic clubs on the planet", says the Daily Mail. "If America doesn't 'get' football after this, it arguably never will."

The English clubs appear to have had the upper hand this summer. The tournament looks likely to end with a final between Man United and Liverpool or Man City – a game that would constitute another "big event" in the eyes of all football fans, and one that would definitely carry significance on and off the field.

However, as The Guardian notes, many US soccer fans are Hispanic, and the Spanish clubs are looking to tap into that audience of 53 million. La Liga president Javier Tabas told the paper: "We are already looking ahead to next year and planning to expand... The World Cup showed what passion there is for football in the US and we are over here at a great time."

As NBC commentator Arlo White adds: "The bottom line is clubs are chasing the dollar to be the most popular team in the US. Like the NFL fans in the UK, there's a lot of very dedicated fans here."

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