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#1 2018-05-14 11:51:57


It's been a year of tumult that brought a flurry

By Matt Walsh

MELBOURNE, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- Sports-mad Melburnians are continually spoilt for choice when it comes to attending world-class sporting events, so it's perhaps no surprise they turned their back on watching second and third-string European football teams at the International Champions Cup (ICC) over the past week.

Following last year's ICC tournament, which drew an average crowd of 76,000 to the three matches involving Real Madrid, AS Roma and Manchester City, Melburnians shunned under-strength teams sent out by Tottenham, Atletico Madrid and Juventus during 2016's instalment which ended at the weekend.

Ticket sales were poor in the lead-up to the match, with many football fans choosing to wait for the announcement of squads before purchasing tickets. When it was revealed a number of the headline acts - such as Juventus' Paul Pogba and Gianluigi Buffon, Atletico's Antoine Griezmann and Tottenham's Harry Kane - would be left home in Europe, locals - in their droves - decided that a night on the couch watching the matches live and free on TV was the preferred option.

All three players featured large in the tournament's official magazine, and early promotional material, but were back enjoying the European summer as their teammates traveled to wintry Melbourne and tried to look interested in what is becoming a tired concept.

Victorians are not easily impressed by big-name tournaments. When it comes to watching the world's best, they're inundated by choices year-round, with the Australian Open tennis, Formula 1 Grand Prix, MotoGP motorcycle race, Melbourne Cup horse race, Australian Football League (AFL) Grand Final, and Boxing Day cricket Test all annual fixtures on the sporting calendar.

It seemed that ICC organizers overestimated the amount of money that Melburnians would pay to see B-Grade and C-Grade Totteham, Atletico and Juventus sides, and that was reflected in the average crowd of just 32,242 fans for the three matches (with the highest attendance just 42,107) - less than half of last year's ICC figure.

For the starting price of almost 60 U.S dollars, and rising up to more than 200 U.S dollars per ticket, diehard Aussie football fans could brave the mid-July weather to watch a throng of 18-year-olds half-heartedly try to win a match while also making sure they emerge unscathed by injury.

For that amount of money, one could buy a center court ticket to the men's semi-final at the Australian Open, take a family of four to the revered Boxing Day cricket Test, or secure a four-day pass to the F1 Grand Prix.

Even the fans who did fork out to watch ""Europe's best"" came away disappointed. The official program for the tournament featured four players: Buffon, Kane, Griezmann and Melbourne Victory striker Besart Berisha. Only Berisha, who fans can pay 20 U.S dollars to see during the A-League season, played during the tournament.

It's not often that other ICC-hosting cities such as Shenzen in China, Limerick in Ireland and the mid-ranking US cities of Charlotte and Ann Arbor get to showcase world-class sporting tournaments, but ICC tournament organizers must realize the fierce competition it faces when coming Down Under.

There is little doubt they will need to tinker with the concept next year if they're to create a stir amongst the city's sports-mad soccer fans. They must either lower the prices for what are essentially a series of glorified friendly matches, or convince top-name players to take to the pitch in order to create some interest.

When Liverpool brought its star power - including Steven Gerrard - to Melbourne three years ago, 95,446 fans responded by turning up. When Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester City stars, Joe Hart, Yaya Toure, and Raheem Sterling took to the MCG last year, 99,382 fans flocked to watch.

Melburnians are happy to spend money watching top-flight football and big names, but what the ICC served up this year fell well short of that. If the ICC concept is to remain an integral feature of Australia's sporting calendar, organizers need to deliver on fans' expectations and stage a tournament in which the big names play a meaningful part.

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