Manchester United v Real Madrid is a 109,000 sell-out
Published 01/08/2014 | 14:15
In the end, the United States could not quite become the story of the World Cup in Brazil, falling in the second round rather than breaking new ground in the latter stages, but Jurgen Klinsmann knew that a bridge had been crossed.
"You cannot stop it anymore," the German coach of the Americans said. "The sport is breaking through in the United States and is coming through at every level. This is a cool moment, but we have to take advantage of it."
When Manchester United face Real Madrid in front of 109,000 spectators in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Saturday, Klinsmann will be able to point to what will be the biggest attendance for a soccer game in the States as evidence of his assertion that football - the original version - is now the real deal in a sporting landscape dominated by the Big Four of NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and Ice Hockey.
And if results go to form in the final round of International Challenge Cup games, Miami's 76,000-capacity Sun Life Stadium will host a Manchester derby in Monday's final, or a clash between United and Liverpool - both of which would give a sense of now to Richard Scudamore's controversial 2008 vision of a 39th Premier League fixture.
"It would be a big deal here if United were to play City or Liverpool in Miami," claimed Robbie Mustoe, the former Middlesbrough midfielder now working as lead soccer analyst for NBC, the Premier League rights holders in the States.
"We broadcast all 380 Premier League games last season and the viewing figures were incredible. The Premier League is bigger than ever here.
"United have a huge fan-base here. Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham also have big followings and broadcasters have noticed there is a growing audience for Premier League games on Saturday and Sunday mornings."
The Premier League numbers are startling, with a cumulative American audience of 116 million during the 2013-14 season marking an increase of 114 per cent on the 2012-13 campaign.
"We are excited about the US on a number of levels," said Premier League spokesman Dan Johnson. "There are burgeoning interest levels in terms of viewing figures and attendances on club tours.
"America's performance in Brazil will further boost interest levels in the game and Tim Howard is now a household name.
"There has been a big uplift in Premier League viewing figures. Both we and NBC think there is a tremendous amount of potential."
Scratch beneath the surface, however, and the reality is that soccer continues to face a fight to claim a foothold in the psyche of a uniquely inward-looking sporting nation.
Premier League and MLS fixtures are broadcast away from the peak slots claimed by NFL games, with morning action from England and evening fixtures in the MLS filling cheaper, less congested airtime on the major networks.
The NFL dominates, with its broadcast deal within the States alone amounting to a staggering $9 billion-a-year. In contrast, the Premier League's global deal, not including the UK, is £2.2 billion over three years.
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 this afternoon.
"America and Asia are the two core places we tend to go to and both deliver a huge amount," admits United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
"America is the No 1 developing market and, despite finishing seventh, we were the most watched club team on US television last season.
"It may be strange to describe the US as a developing market, but look at the NBC numbers."
La Liga, which can boast Real and Barcelona plus a galaxy of star names including Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Gareth Bale, has attempted to raise its profile in the States this summer, despite its leading official admitting that the Premier League has already raced over the American horizon.
"We believe the USA is an important area for Spanish soccer," said La Liga president, Javier Tebas. "Soccer is rapidly growing in popularity here and the MLS is becoming increasingly significant.
"But it is impossible to compare us with the Premier League from a commercial perspective. What we are trying to do is get closer to them and there is a lot of support out here already for Real Madrid and Barcelona."
Mike Forde, who spent six years as director of football operations at Chelsea before moving to New York to set up the sports consultancy agency Ingenio-Management, works closely with sporting organisations within the NBA, NFL and MLB and he admits that Premier League clubs have learned to hone their approach to successfully tap into the American market.
"The growth of Saturday morning Premier League broadcasts built the fans' interest in the States, but those supporters are now becoming more educated," Forde said.
"Ten years ago, any Premier League club could turn up with any of their players in pre-season, but the fans now only want to pay to watch the best."
What really projects soccer to an American audience, however, is a big event.
United versus Liverpool in Miami would the equivalent of the LA Lakers tackling the New York Knicks at the O2 Arena or the Dallas Cowboys facing the Green Bay Packers at Wembley Stadium and the ‘big event' is why 109,000 will be in Ann Arbor today.
"United against Real is big because many of us wake up at 5am and 7.30am on Saturdays to watch Premier League on TV," said Gregg Krupa of the Detroit News. "It is going to be nice to see them live.
"Even if this is a friendly, and we will not see the sides going full tilt, it will be fun."