Relevent Sports Group has signed a three-year ticketing partnership with Stage Front, an alliance that reflects the firm’s optimism that it will stage International Champions Cup matches in front of fans later this year.
The partnership has two parts. Stage Front will be both a sponsor and a ticketing partner of the ICC’s men’s event, which features the top clubs in the world. The company will not only help the ICC sell tickets but also bolster its business analytics in areas like digital marketing and pricing strategy.
Relevent Sports is owned by billionaire Stephen Ross, who also owns the Miami Dolphins. In 2019, the men’s event featured clubs such as Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Manchester United, playing 18 matches in 17 venues across the globe. There are also annual women’s and futures events; all three were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“We hope this deal sends a signal to the marketplace that live events are coming back,” Relevent Sports CEO Daniel Sillman said in an interview. “That those who are in the live events space, whether it’s an event producer like ourselves, or a ticketing and events partner like Stage Front, are all hearing from the talent, the clubs, the leagues, the governing bodies and the fans that they plan to go to events in the summer of 2021.”
The ICC was established in 2013 to be one of international soccer’s premier club events. Each summer, Europe’s top teams use the tournament both as a tune-up, and as a way to reach fans beyond their saturated home markets. While this year’s plans are still being formalized, Sillman said the group is “100% planning” to hold games safely in front of fans in 2021, in both the U.S. and Asia.
Stage Front, which also provides technology for brokers, is looking to grow its business as a ticket retailer and as a data analytics partner. The ICC deal will let the company provide its “full menu” of expertise, said Mike Guiffre, head of partnerships and marketing at Stage Front.
“For example, if you’re getting a ton of people hitting your website and going to the cart but not buying, maybe tickets are overpriced,” said Guiffre. “If you’re seeing that everyone is buying instantly on the secondary market, you’re probably underpriced. And what search terms are being used? There’s a lot of data out there that can be utilized.”
Business intelligence has become an increased priority for the ICC in recent years. Sillman said originally the company was primarily focused on producing good live events. In the past few years, the goals have expanded as the group searches for ways to interact with fans beyond just the games themselves.
When the pandemic forced the cancellation of all 2020 ICC events, that strategy took center stage. Relevent, which is also La Liga’s partner in a North American joint venture, responded by focusing on original programming. It built a studio in Guadalajara and began producing weekly shows and longer-form video. The company co-produced a documentary on Norwegian soccer star Ada Hegerberg, that recently debuted on ESPN+. (La Liga North America signed a separate deal with Stage Front last month).
But live events are still the focus, and ticket sales are the biggest piece of ICC revenue—a little more than 50% in normal years, according to Sillman. While no firm decisions have been made about the 2021 men’s event, Sillman said the next 30 to 45 days will be critical in assessing where the group can host games, and how many people might be involved.
The organizer is likely to focus on states like Florida and Texas, where sports teams have been hosting fans throughout the fall. That includes leveraging Relevent’s business relationship with the Dolphins, who have been sharing what they’ve learned from an NFL season at 20% capacity.
The most important piece, however, is club participation—there’s no ICC without the world’s biggest teams and their biggest stars. Sillman said that in early conversations, interest has been stronger than normal.
“They know that the opportunities economically for them are most advantageous in the U.S. and Asia,” he said. “And coming out a pandemic, where they’re going to experience rebates from their media partners over the next 24 months, they need to find fan growth and media rights growth to be able to sustain player acquisitions for the future.”