As more eyeballs are drawn towards women’s soccer following the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Relevent Sports Group is looking forward to a big second year for its women’s soccer tournament – and forecasting even bigger things ahead.
The Women’s International Champions Cup, launched last year, follows a similar format as Relevent’s International Champions Cup, bringing the top clubs in professional soccer to the U.S. for one tournament. However, unlike the men’s ICC, a distinct advantage has helped the women’s tournament stand out: with many of the best women’s soccer players on the planet playing in the U.S., competitions between European and NWSL clubs are rare.
That led to on-field success in the inaugural tournament in 2018. The North Carolina Courage won the title in Miami, defeating French club Olympique Lyonnais – ranked the top women’s club in Europe. Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain’s women’s teams also participated in the tournament.
However, there was obvious room for growth from year one – while no official attendance figures were released, the cavernous Hard Rock Stadium had thousands of empty seats.
Daniel Sillman, Relevent Sports Group CEO, said that as the company looked back at year one, it recognized there were some areas that could use improvement.
“We know how to put on a training camp and to give the female players the same experience that any men’s team has when they participate in our other tournament,” Sillman said. “But we really needed to listen to the clubs to see what has worked in the NWSL and around the Women’s World Cup – we want to make sure we’re filling the stadium and creating the biggest crowd possible so we can help inspire young girls in soccer and in life.”
That led to a deeper investment into content around this year’s ICC women’s tournament, which Sillman said would also include a soon-to-be published documentary series about an international Women’s World Cup player, telling her global story to the American audience. He declined to comment further.
That also comes with a shift in venue – to WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, the home of the Courage. Sillman said that has let Relevent work closely with the Courage to not only help sell tickets, but better connect with the fans by learning a bit about how to tell the stories of the female players.
The Courage have returned to defend its inaugural title, and will face Atletico de Madrid, Manchester City and Olympique Lyonnais – the champions of each of their respective domestic leagues.
That has helped build some buzz on the ground – Sillman said that while only roughly 50% of the tickets had been sold for the four-game slate two days before the tournament began – two will be held on August 15 and two will be held on August 18 – Relevent was expecting strong walk-up sales as well as a potential sell-out for the final. The stadium has a capacity of roughly 10,000.
“Even if we didn’t sell a single ticket more, our attendance will be up significantly compared to last year,” Sillman said. “We’re encouraged by the growth and see more to come in the future.”
Commercial revenues from sponsorships also saw an uptick, highlighted by Budweiser signing on as the first presenting partner of the ICC women’s tournament. Other sponsors of the tournament include Ally, LaLiga, Herbalife, Nike and Essentia Water.
Sillman admitted that selling brands on partnering with the tournament in year one was difficult because it was a new property, but that he has been in discussions with several companies about sponsoring future editions.
“There are a lot of brands talking in the marketplace right now about how they can allocate their funds to directly be dedicated to the women’s game,” he said.
It will also get a boost of its broadcast reach. As part of a larger expansion of the partnership between ESPN and Relevent Sports, three of the matches will appear on ESPN+ while the final will be on ESPN2. In 2018, only the final match was broadcast on ESPN2.
While the event is currently not profitable, Sillman said he has no question the tournament will be in the long run.
“We are focused on making something that is meaningful and that the players are proud of, and that the fans, broadcasters and brand partners can be excited about,” Sillman said. “We are on a good trajectory for building a sustainable platform.”
Part of that will come with expanding the platform. Sillman said that Relevent is aiming for the tournament be held in two NWSL markets in 2020, allowing it to have two sides of the bracket while also upping the team count to eight or more. Sillman said the plan is to shift the tournament to the Fall.
Sillman said that efforts to make the tournament larger this year became complicated because of the Women’s World Cup, which could have potentially seen games played in Portland. However, the momentum coming out of France for women’s soccer just showcases why Relevent is making the investment into women’s soccer.
“Our business mission is based on growing soccer – if we’re going to do that, we have to make an equal investment in the women’s game as we are in the men’s game,” Sillman said.