DC United, currently second in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, on Friday announced a partnership with the Premier League team Sunderland. The two clubs, who already had a “friendship agreement”, will now share “expertise, benefit and promotion” on both sides of the Atlantic.
Sunderland’s owner, Ellis Short, is from Texas (and one of five American club owners or majority shareholders in the Premier League) and the club employs the striker Jozy Altidore, who was a member of Jürgen Klinsmann’s USA World Cup squad in Brazil this summer.
News of the Sunderland-DC partnership – which follows Manchester City’s investment with the New York Yankees in New York City FC, a new MLS franchise which will begin play in 2015 with David Villa and Frank Lampard onboard – came shortly after the conclusion of a raft of pre-season fixtures involving Premier League teams in the US, each seeking to increase its presence in a “market” which is seen to be growing rapidly.
Most visibly, Manchester United attracted 360,000 fans to games against the Los Angeles Galaxy (in Pasadena), Roma (Denver), Internazionale (Washington DC), Real Madrid (Ann Arbor, Michigan) and Liverpool (Miami). The Real Madrid match, a 3-2 victory for United, attracted 109,318 to the University of Michigan’s fabled “Big House” gridiron stadium, a record for a soccer game in north America.
Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City were among a host of other Premier League teams to play in north America this summer.
Sunderland’s pre-season fixtures took them first around the north of England, to Darlington, Carlisle and Hartlepool, and then to Portugal. On Thursday they beat Real Betis 2-0; their last pre-season fixture is against Udinese on Saturday.
In a statement, DC United’s chief operating officer Tom Hunt, said: “Through this partnership we look to share best practices on both the technical and commercial side, while also helping Sunderland increase its brand recognition in the nation’s capital and throughout the US.”
For Sunderland, commercial director Gary Hutchinson added: “This is a major step forward for Sunderland … and a really exciting development for us in the US market. We are continually looking at new ways to develop our international profile and our partnership with DC United will help us to build closer links with this key territory.”
Sunderland, who on Tuesday signed England midfielder Jack Rodwell on a five-year deal from Manchester City, for £10m ($16.8m), begin their Premier League season away to West Brom on Saturday 16 August. Last season, after the popular Uruguayan manager Gus Poyet replaced the controversial Paolo Di Canio, they escaped relegation after a remarkable run of form that included four straight wins, one of them at Old Trafford. They also reached the final of the Capital One Cup, losing 3-1 to Manchester City at Wembley.
DC United have won four MLS Cups, although the last was in 2004. They also struggled last season, finishing bottom of the Eastern Conference, and also reached a cup final, beating Real Salt Lake 1-0 in Utah to win the US Open Cup. They have revived this year under the management of Ben Olsen, a former player.
The MLS team’s statement concluded by heralding the move as “another step forward in strengthening the warm relationship between the two cities”.
Sunderland, a struggling former industrial hub in England’s north-east that only earned city status in 1992, may seem to have little in common with the capital of the most powerful country in the world. There are, however, precedents for links between the two cities, including the presence on the Sunderland board between 2011 and 2013 of David Miliband, who represented the area as an MP and who as British foreign secretary between 2007 and 2010 formed a famously close working relationship with President Barack Obama’s first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
In 2012, Miliband helped Sunderland conclude a “pioneering” sponsorship agreement with Invest in Africa. The deal, which proved controversial due to Invest in Africa’s links with a giant oil company, Tullow Oil, was scrapped in April last year.