Overseas Preseason Friendlies: A Primer

What I’ve decided to do here today is a rough-and-dirty analysis of non-domestic countries visited by clubs in six selected leagues in their most recent preseason. As one might already know, a club going overseas to do a preseason tour is not merely doing it to get the team ready for the season. There is no shortage of local clubs who would love nothing more than to go out and play the dream match against a big-time, major league club that they can go tell their grandkids about afterwards. You can warm up your club against them just fine. By going overseas to do it, a club is looking usually to build their brand in that country. They’re looking to take a fresh stack of replica jerseys along with them to sell to the locals and, if they’re lucky, get them to be fans of the team who will then go spend more money on team merchandise later on.

The idea here is, what does that look like across an entire league? It’ll change from year to year, of course. Clubs that focus on touring North America one year might tour Asia the next, and they can’t go everywhere in one preseason, but at the same time, other clubs in the league might not leave the country at all. So this is just a snapshot. Not only where is the footprint being made right now, but how big of a footprint, and how much of the league is contributing to that footprint. Perhaps everyone is traveling. Perhaps only a few are.

The six I’ve selected are three of the biggies in Europe- England, Spain and Germany- and three not-quite-so-biggies outside of Europe altogether- Brazil, the United States and Australia. Someone with more time on their hands than I do could expand it out and get more leagues involved, a larger sample size, but I figure this is a nice starting point. We’ll get a little more into the details of each league after we lay out the country spread.

Forgive the lack of links this time around. You would never make sense of what’s supposed to be pointing to what anyway. Unsurprisingly, preseason friendlies don’t get all that much ink, and it’s a real pain to hunt down a record of venue amongst all the betting sites that are interested in nothing beyond ‘home, away or neutral’. The place would be covered in blue. You’d think there was an ad bot on your computer. I did my best.

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE (2014-15)
United States: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion
Germany: Chelsea, Everton, Hull City, Newcastle United, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City, West Ham United
Netherlands: Aston Villa, Chelsea, Southampton
Austria: Chelsea, Crystal Palace
Thailand: Everton, Leicester City
New Zealand: Newcastle United, West Ham United
Slovenia: Chelsea
Turkey: Chelsea
Hungary: Chelsea
Denmark: Liverpool
Scotland: Manchester City
Ireland: Queens Park Rangers
Belgium: Southampton
Portugal: Sunderland
Canada: Tottenham Hotspur
Finland: Tottenham Hotspur

England, of course, makes a habit of annual globetrotting, with the major clubs treating it partly as vacations for the players to whatever exotic locale it is that year. In the last ten preseasons, Manchester United alone has traveled to Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand, and the United States. It just happened to be a glut of American tours this time around, with a lot of potential fans with a lot of disposable income hungry for a quality product.

GERMAN BUNDESLIGA (2014-15)
Austria: Hertha Berlin, FC Koln, SC Paderborn, Schalke 04, VfB Stuttgart, Werder Bremen
England: Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, 1. FSV Mainz, Schalke 04, Werder Bremen, VfL Wolfsburg
Switzerland: Borussia Dortmund, 1899 Hoffenheim, VfL Wolfsburg
Poland: Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen
China: Hamburger SV, Werder Bremen
South Korea: Bayer Leverkusen
United States: Bayern Munich
Qatar: Bayern Munich
Saudi Arabia: Bayern Munich
Italy: Eintracht Frankfurt
Spain: SC Freiburg
Slovenia: Hannover 96
Turkey: Hertha Berlin

The Bundesliga, outside of the marquee names, isn’t quite as enamored with big roadtrips as England is. Bayern Munich and their chief competitors have brands to sell, but most of the league heads for the Alps to do their warmups. Also note: there’s a lot of German/English crossover. Both can find the stiff resistance you like to have in a late-preseason game by looking to the other, as their respective national teams will attest.

LA LIGA (2014-15)
Germany: Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Getafe, Granada, Malaga, Sevilla, Valencia
England: Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad, Valencia, Villarreal
France: Athletic Bilbao, FC Barcelona, Sevilla
Switzerland: Athletic Bilbao, FC Barcelona
United States: Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid
Turkey: Atletico Madrid, Sevilla
Portugal: Celta Vigo, Deportivo de La Coruna
Netherlands: Levante, Real Sociedad
Thailand: UD Almeria
Austria: Athletic Bilbao
Greece: Athletic Bilbao
Mexico: Atletico Madrid
Finland: FC Barcelona
Algeria: Celta Vigo
Colombia: Deportivo de La Coruna
Morocco: RCD Espanyol
Australia: Malaga
Italy: Rayo Vallecano
Poland: Real Madrid
United Arab Emirates: Real Madrid

While the convenience of remaining on the continent is a strong lure, La Liga scattered to the four winds in its most recent preseason, with at least one club trekking to every inhabited continent. The bottom of the table, though, never left Spain.

Now to the less marquee leagues, and watch how dramatically these lists shrink.

CAMPEONATO BRASILEIRO SERIE A (2015)
United States: Corinthians, Fluminense
Spain: Atletico Paranaense
Germany: Internacional

In Brazil, friendlies are a luxury only the more notable clubs have the energy, or finances, to consider doing. In addition to the league and cup competitions, as well as any continental obligations, there’s also a state-level competition that eats up tons of otherwise spare time. As far as larger clubs are concerned, if you want friendlies, that’s what beating up on your weaker in-state brethren are for. While other nations can easily see their clubs rack up six or seven preseason games, two or three looks to be the limit here.

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER (2015)
England: Chicago Fire, New York City FC
Mexico: Montreal Impact
Sweden: LA Galaxy
Ireland: LA Galaxy

MLS, following its trend of taking after other North American leagues, tends to keep to itself, with the clubs mostly playing each other, and lower-level American clubs, in a handful of centralized spots throughout the southern United States. As with Major League Baseball, they chiefly home in on Florida and Arizona, though going to Texas or Nevada or South Carolina isn’t unheard of.

A-LEAGUE (2014-15)
England: Melbourne City
United Arab Emirates: Western Sydney Wanderers

The A-League acts much like MLS, but there’s more of a focus on traveling the country to regions without A-League teams- which are not hard to find, given the close concentration of most teams on the east and southeast coasts- and playing local lower-level sides. The Wellington Phoenix, the only New Zealand team, does likewise on its side of the Tasman Sea.

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