Several years before David Beckham gave domestic soccer the buzz it's currently enjoying, several of Europe's biggest clubs identified America as a potential blockbuster market.
The sport was massive with children, but had never translated into the commercial professional sports world, meaning untapped dollars, and Chelsea Football Club hoped to take advantage of the huge potential market.
After spending two summers conducting preseason training stateside, Chelsea last summer decided to couple that with a concerted PR push, bringing Hill & Knowlton in to help execute it. "This was the first time we sat down and really tried to create buzz while we were there and also after we left," says Simon Greenberg, Chelsea FC head of communications.
While the club previously had set up preseason training games against fellow European clubs, this time Chelsea scheduled a more meaningful game for Americans: the Major League Soccer All-Star Game. Afterward, the club struck a deal with Sirius radio to broadcast a show, True Blue, before each of its games in England. It also reached out to communities, bringing 250 disadvantaged youth to a Chicago Fire game, providing transportation and Chelsea shirts.
While the MLS All-Star Game brought national media attention, Chelsea is hoping some Americans will be supporters for life. "We need to translate that level of media interest into things like international membership," Greenberg says. The excitement generated by the game at a sold out Columbus Crew Stadium led to another US tour coming this summer, featuring a stop in LA to take on Beckham's Galaxy.
With H&K's help, Chelsea FC hopes to continue growing its fan base in America with preseason tours, and supplementing them with year-round PR.
PR team: Chelsea FC (London) and Hill & Knowlton (Chicago)
Campaign: Expanding Chelsea's fan base into America
Duration: June 2006-ongoing
Budget: Less than $50,000