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FC Barcelona’s trip to the United States this summer, on which the team played matches in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, was a huge hit in every imaginable way. Charlie Stillitano, the chairman of Relevent Sports, the company that organises the International Champions Cup, had nothing but good words to say about the presence of the five-time European champions in his country in an interview with Catalan daily sports paper Mundo Deportivo.
There had been some concern that with two of the biggest stars in the Catalan squad, Messi and Neymar, absent after playing in the Copa America, that ticket sales for Barça games might be affected. The fears were totally unfounded – there was not an empty seat in the house for any of the three games. “It was a shame that they couldn’t be here because they were getting a well-deserved rest” says Stillitano. “But Barça came with seven of the eleven players that started the last Champions League Final. That all three games were sell-outs goes to show how popular the club is in North America.”
Traditionally, ‘soccer’ is the game of the Hispanic community in the USA, but the demographic of people attending Barça’s games this summer didn’t suggest any particular bias. “The cultural connection is very important for understanding who comes to watch Barça, but there isn’t really any direct incidence” said the former general manager of the New York MetroStars in the MLS. “Barça is one of the most popular clubs in the world because of their talents and successes. American fans, like those elsewhere in the world, are fascinated by the greatness that Barça has achieved in recent years.”
Asked if there was any one moment in particular that he remembers from the summer tour, Stillitano highlights “the atmosphere at the FedEx Field in Washington for the game between Barça and Chelsea. It was awesome. The noise was deafening and the crowd cheered and enjoyed every minute of it. It was an amazing experience. They also told me that at every hotel where Barça stayed in the US, hundreds of fans waited for hours outside in the hope of getting an autograph or just getting a glimpse of stars like Piqué, Iniesta and Suárez in the distance. The Barça footballers were treated like celebrities this summer in the United States.”
He also commented on how much he hopes to see Barça back at the International Champions Cup in 2016. “Nothing is official yet” he insisted. “But we are hoping to be able to organise tournaments in Asia and Australia too.” All will be revealed at a later date, but wherever Barça go next summer, we can rest assured that there will no shortage of fans eager to welcome them.
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