Spotlight: Interview with Charlie Stillitano, Executive Chairman, Relevent Sports
How would you rate the 2019 edition of the International Champions cup?
It was a success. We did very well in ticket sales overall and the tournament was broadcast to 190 countries live. It was also great to see sponsorship growing steadily every year. This success was great, however the most important for me was the quality of play on the field, it was the most competitive we ever had in the tournament. It was a year without a World Cup or European Championship and that helped a lot. Only Copa America and Africa Nations Cup were played but both competitions ended early for several countries, so the majority of the teams lined up with their best sides and that made a real difference. There was a real commitment from all of the coaches and players at the ICC, they tried to present their best starting eleven in order to be at their best during the tournament, and that was fantastic.
How do you convince elite teams to participate and how do you manage logistics of such a huge and complex tournament, played in different parts of the globe?
We need managers to see this tournament as the best way to prepare for the season, that’s key for the success of the ICC. We don’t want managers and teams who look at this tournament as a sponsorship obligation. I can give the examples of Sir Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho whom I met in the past and both told me about the importance of the preseason for the success of their teams. With the managers commitment it is possible to have the best teams in the world playing at the ICC and ensuring the success of the tournament.
Regarding logistics, it is very difficult, a real challenge. We have to assure managers and players are happy, first and foremost. We have to deal with training centers in Asia and the US, being aware of the weather issues in both places. Those are the challenges. The football part I think we already figured out but there are still a lot of challenges overall from an organizational stand point. Finally there is the balance between commercial and football activities, and that isn’t easy. Some clubs want to close access, others are open to have people attending… and we don’t know how individual teams and coaches will react to the commitments during the tournament. It isn’t easy.
Benfica was a surprise winner. How do you see their performance?
Benfica is a giant brand and team, but they are also very modest in their approach. I want to compliment Benfica not only because they won. They came over several times before the start of the tournament, with Luisão’s presence, hitting the community hard. They are the team of the immigrants, like Napoli are for Italy. They are the team most of the immigrants follow, although Porto and Sporting also have their fanbase, Benfica’s is wider.
I was impressed how they got in into the community, and made people proud of them being around.
On the football side, Benfica lost their two biggest players (João Felix and Jonas) and they restructured the team with their academy, and it really impressed me. Portugal is a small country, but still developing some of the best players in the world. I don’t know how they do it, maybe it is something in the water (laughs). As an Italian, I envy them. They had Figo, Rui Costa, Ronaldo, now is Félix… it is amazing. Sporting was the major academy, now it is Benfica. Their challenge, because these small countries don’t have huge TV contracts, is to develop players from the academy, they sell them, like Benfica did with Bernardo Silva or João Félix, but they know there are other players in the mix, like Florentino, a player lots of clubs are looking at, or Ruben Dias, another player on the radar of big clubs. Paulo Maldini talked to me about him as a player they like. I like what Benfica is doing.
Benfica impressed me in all three games, beating important sides, playing very well. They were deserved champions. You see all the big names participating and to see Benfica win the tournament it’s very impressive.
ICC’s objectives for next tournaments?
We still have a lot to improve. The teams are happy to come and to be part of the tournament. We want to make it fun and entertaining for the fans. We had success this year because the majority of the teams had their best players. That is the key. So, the biggest challenge is the calendar. Maybe we can also look at ways to have a final with the two top seeded teams and the first in the table to host the final at their home ground in Europe. It would be wonderful to have a final between Benfica and Manchester United in this year’s edition. But due to the calendar, with both Premier League and Portuguese League starting earlier, that was impossible. So, for us that is the challenge but that is going to be what will make ICC better. Having the trophy lifted after the final, when the team wins ICC would be obviously better.
There are other little things, but we are aware this is not Champions League, neither we aim to be, but we are not a friendly tournament either. We are a competition that teams are taking seriously.
What has ICC done for the development of soccer in the US?
I think it benefits not only the States but also Asia. We see kids in the US already know the players. For instance, people heard about João Félix and had the opportunity to see him play for the first time for Atletico Madrid in the ICC. I believe the big events help develop the sports. The open trainings, the clinics, both most of all, the games, they give the opportunity for people in the US and Asia to see some of the best players in the world playing live.
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