As the 50th anniversary of Title IX approaches, women’s sports teams and their star players are seeing an uptick in interest and sponsor dollars. A part of that trend includes the upcoming Women’s International Champions Cup (WICC), a tournament that pits winners of regional leagues against each other. Relevent Sports Group, the owner of the tournament, will add the winner of Mexico’s league (Torneo Grita Apertura) this year to a mix that includes teams from the Champions League, NWSL and Women’s Super League, and it plans to hold the event beyond North America’s borders in future years to increase interest.
“Each year the WICC competition grows as the world’s top players circle their calendars for the chance to be crowned the best club in the world,” RSG CEO Daniel Sillman told Sportico.
RSG held the inaugural WICC in 2018; it took place in Miami that year, followed by Cary, N.C. in 2019. The tournament was paused in 2020 but came back in 2021 in Portland, where the host Portland Thorns won the Cup. This August, the competition will return to Portland, where the Thorns—winner’s of the NWSL Challenge—will take on Mexico’s C.F. Monterrey, Champions League winner Lyon and Women’s Super League champions Chelsea F.C.
“The 2022 edition is expanding beyond just NWSL and a new wave of clubs, into Mexico,” Sillman said. “The Thorns have had close to 20,000 people in the stands, which is why we’ve chosen to partner with Portland, who’s done the best job of cultivating a local audience of anybody in the country.” According to NWSL, the Thorns’ attendance went up 79.3% since the 2019 season.
Sillman sees an opportunity to fill stadiums throughout the U.S. and Europe, and possibly beyond. “We may consider going to Asia, where we think that this tournament would have sold-out crowds as well,” he said. “From our standpoint, it’s about delivering unique experiences to fans across the globe that are interested in watching football, specifically women’s football, what we think is the best in the world.”
This year’s tournament will consist of four matches played as two doubleheaders. In the first, Lyon will face Chelsea, and the Thorns will play Monterrey in an all-North American battle. The tournament ends with a Europe vs. North America final on Aug. 20.
Relevent’s goal is to gradually grow the tournament from four clubs to 16. “We’re trying to create an expanded tournament that would pit the best teams in the world against each other from the best regions,” said Sillman. “The next expansion would be specifically through our relationship with CONMEBOL, to include them in the tournament, and CONCACAF and make this a marquee event to promote the sport in this specific American region because we think North America is the most competitive media market.”
ESPN will broadcast the competition live in English and Spanish on ESPN networks in the United States, and it will air globally in over 170 territories thanks to a new partnership with DIRECTV in Latin America.
Sponsors include Nike and Ally, a Utah-based fintech company, and RSG is seeking out partners in the digital realm. “We are looking at crypto, NFTs and blockchain that is getting across sports,” Sillman said.
The New York-based firm also organizes the International Champions Cup for men’s club teams.