Europa League final: Why American businessmen have invested in clubs like Marseille and Liverpool

 
Joe Hall
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Marseille celebrate after reaching the Europa League final (Source: Getty)

Marseille fans looking forward to tonight’s Europa League final against Atletico Madrid have soccer-playing school kids in the United States to thank, according to David McCourt, whose brother Frank has revived the club.

The French team, in their first major European final for 14 years, were one of four sides in this year’s Champions League and Europa League semi-finals to become American-owned, alongside Liverpool, Roma and Arsenal.

Their presence in the upper echelons of Europe’s elite competition follows a steady stream of investment from across the Atlantic in recent seasons which telecoms mogul McCourt partly puts down to a boom in Stateside children playing football.

“We’re the first generation of adults that has grown up with our kids playing European football from kindergarten all the way through school,” McCourt told City A.M.

Read more: American owners, data disciples and digital media - why Liverpool vs Roma was a Champions League tie of its time

“It takes a generation to embrace a dramatic change.”

McCourt’s brother, the former owner of baseball franchise LA Dodgers, became the principal owner of Marseille in 2016 after buying the club for a reported €45m.

After finishing 13th the previous season, the nine-time French champions have returned to competing for European qualification and — this season — major European honours.

Not every American-owned club has been as successful on the pitch. But another factor behind the flurry of investment, according to McCourt, is that they spotted a revenue generating opportunity in European football clubs which were not yet leveraging their brands as effectively as major US franchises.

“The second reason [behind US investment] is Americans have seen the different ways you can create value in global sports brands and I think they saw that some of the European clubs had not exploited the value equation to its fullest,” he says.

“And there’s probably a third, more practical reason thrown in there and that’s that some sports franchises in the States have been priced out or at least priced out of owning multiple clubs.”

Part of the sports brand value equation includes maximising global reach using digital media — and that’s where David comes in.

“The way we’ve separated the business between my brother and I is that I run everything that’s telecom and media and he runs a sports real estate development and construction business,” says McCourt.

“When it has to do with the media strategy or an engagement strategy or a telecoms strategy, we partner up and I head that part of it up.

“Marseille is a sports club with an on-field strategy that’s doing very well. I’m very involved but I’m just involved on the media side, not on the on-field side or the real estate side.”

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