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What are the secrets and difficulties behind ICC China's largest tournament?

By Gu Xin and Zhang Tingting 28 Apr 2017

On March 14th, the 2017 International Champions Cup China (ICC China) Press Conference was held in Shanghai. The event organizer Catalyst announced that ICC China this year would be held from 18th to 24th July in four large Chinese cities, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Nanjing. AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Inter Milan would take part in the tournament. 

The event this year would see the most teams and Chinese cities participating and is the largest-scaled one in three years since its first appearance in China in 2015 and although it had an accident in China last year.  

For the first two years ICC partnered with LeSports for event operations in China. Unfortunately, one of the games last year which was going to take place in the Bird Nest in Beijing was canceled 5 hours before the kickoff due to bad pitch conditions. It is said that the heavy rain during the last summer was the cause.  

This year marks the first year that Catalyst operate the event on their own and the accident last year obviously did not stop ICC to expand in China or have a bad influence on the tournament. 

According to a Chinese online media Q Daily, Catalyst would increase their staffing to over 100 people during the China event this year to be able to operate on its own. 

Q Daily also reported that among the entire sponsorship revenues ICC China gained from the 21 games worldwide in 2015, the three games of ICC China contributed 35% of the sponsorship revenues, which provided the motivation for the increasing in scales for ICC China this year. Ned Negus, Vice President, Sales & Marketing at Catalyst Media Group Ltd. said to Q Daily around the time of the press conference that the sponsorship sales of 2017 had already surpassed 2016’s results. 

At present, ICC China have 5 sponsors for the tournament as shown on the tournament’s website. The roster include Audi as the Presenting Sponsor, and Der as the Premium Sponsors, Emirates and Oriental Gaobo as the Official Sponsors. 

ICC is rated by some to be a successful summer time preseason football tournament. It successfully produced some highly-attended football games in America, the UK and Australia. Such as in 2014, 109,318 fans attended Man Utd. Vs. Real Madrid game at Michigan Stadium, which is the most attended football match in American history. The global expansion to Australia and China also demonstrated the tournament has been doing well. 

At the first year that ICC China is going to be operated by Catalyst alone, Simon Calder, Senior Vice President, Catalyst Media Group Ltd., shared with Yutang Sports some of his insights to operating football friendlies in China. 

Anything different and worth to highlight this year?

Simon Calder: This year we have more clubs. It is an interesting mix of clubs. I think each of the matches is interesting in its own way. Having Bayern and Arsenal, that is a big thing for us. Arsenal is the first time in ICC, I think it is an interesting match. The Derby in Nanjing, Inter and AC Milan. Inter Milan is now owned by Suning. Suning is from Nanjing. That could be an interesting match as well. We love going to Shenzhen. Shenzhen is a very nice destination for us. And Guangzhou is a big football city. We were there in 2015. We had a great match there. So I think each match has something to offer.

What’s your personal feeling of running ICC China since 2015?

Simon Calder: It’s very challenging. I love China, but it makes a big challenge. Look, I’ve worked in Russia, in Switzerland, in Greece, in Brazil. Every place has different challenges. China is just different. Each place is different, different challenges. I really like the people. That’s the most interesting thing. The Chinese people are fun, hard-working, and sometimes a little crazy. But I think when we find a common purpose when we work together, it’s very rolling, very enjoying.

What’s the biggest difficulty in China?

Simon Calder: The biggest difficulty in China … Well, I’ll put it in two ways. For me personally, it’s learning the culture. I don’t speak Mandarin. So for me that’s a challenge. I rely much on my colleagues to translate and also to give a cultural view. So this is how to work in China. And from a perspective of the tournament, I think getting pitches, the grass, the turf, every year, it’s one recurring problem or challenge. So that’s something we focus on. It’s a particular area that we put a lot of effort into.

Compared with ICC US, what makes ICC China unique?

Simon Calder: How can I put this? So we bring the clubs from Europe, and the difference between Europe and US, it’s different, but it’s not so different, a little bit different. The difference between Europe and China is very big. So the difference is making as comfortable as possible for the clubs. It’s a big gap in China, because you are so different. You have different food. You have different language. They can’t read the signs. Stadium is quite different. So it’s more in-depth for us with the clubs. We have to go very deep on making their stay as comfortable as possible.

What are the key elements of operating a commercial tournament successfully in China?  

The main objective is to make the clubs happy and comfortable in China. The clubs want to come to China. If they don’t come with us, they would come with somebody else. So our biggest objective is to make the clubs experience the best one possible. So when they come back to China, the second time, the third time, they want to come with us. If that objective is met, the other objectives follow. It means we get the best clubs, which means we have the best matches, which means the fans have the best experience, the sponsors have a good experience. For me, if we don’t have clubs that are happy, we have problems. So we start with the clubs. 

What’s your objectives and plan for the further development of ICC China?

Well, we wanna be here for long term. We wanna keep having every year ICC. We wanna grow. We wanna have more matches, more clubs. But really, the objective is just to be here long term, to stay. Our objective is to be really embedded into China, and to become the one tournament that every year the clubs come back.

Tags: football ICC
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