The International Champions Cup, despite its flashy name, is a glorified pre-season tournament for the clubs and players that take part. Game time and fitness are the associated buzzwords thrown around in press conferences.
But for the venues that host them, there is much more meaning. In the United States, Singapore and Australia, the ICC brings a host of world-class talent and their star managers to the doorsteps of many, giving them a chance to see their idols up close.
In this sense, the concept of offsetting obvious commercial and marketing gain with friendlies across the world has been a successful one.
A success going forward
For Singapore, the chance to see such stars is much more scarce. Unlike USA and Australia, who have functioning and popular leagues, as well as national teams, Singapore’s domestic league and national team is much more subdued and, in some cases, largely irrelevant in the larger scheme of things.
But in a nation of Premier League-loving fans, the ICC fulfils its remit: it brings football to the far-flung fans. This year was the second to be held in Singapore with two more guaranteed in 2019 and 2020. A crowd in excess of 50,000 to watch Arsenal play Paris Saint-Germain was reflective of the potential here.
After Bayern, Chelsea and Inter Milan played here last year, 2018’s trio was Arsenal, Atletico Madrid and PSG. However, the World Cup put a slight dampener on the occasion resulting in the absences of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Antoine Griezmann amongst others.
Out of the 18 teams in this ICC, it leaves six big teams left to travel to Singapore – the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus, and five other top-tier teams in Tottenham, Lyon, Milan, Roma and Benfica.
Any one or two of those six would be big for the ICC in Singapore, likely increasing the mid-20,000 turnout for the two day-games – the prospect of a Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or any of the three English sides prompting many fans to book time off work.
Off the pitch
Aside from the World Cup effect, though, the ICC was well-received in Singapore.
PSG did plenty of commercial and community work with a visit to the local hospital and kit launches. Arsenal launched their own third kit, did some local activities and a partnership launch with Acronis. Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, made a surprise visit to a local school and gave the children there a memorable time.
All three had open training sessions as well. The three teams did a good job of connecting with the fans here, signing autographs and taking pictures – one of the reasons they’re here.
Singapore had its share of the bizarre as well. Mesut Ozil signed the referee’s yellow card when requested for an autograph, while a credit card (UnionPay were the sponsors) was used in place of the coin in the pre-match toss.
Looking to the future
It is no wonder, with such events, why the ICC is shrugged off. But it achieves its job, not only in providing competitive game time and match fitness but bringing such games to locations afield. The caveat here is that Singapore’s 55,000-capacity National Stadium makes it possible to have it here, but for the fans, they wouldn’t care.
The ICC carnival now rolls out of town, set to return a year later. There are things to work on but it was smoothly run.
After two years of strong teams, the hope will be that the real showstoppers can make an appearance here, complete with the stars. It is then that the true potential of the ICC in Singapore would be realised.
A 50,000 attendance at a pre-season game in Singapore (a record) is impressive, but indicative of the support here willing to pay to watch world-class talent in a meaningless game. That feeling, along with the rest of the events organised by ICC and the clubs, means that the ICC will always be a success in Singapore. Long may it continue.