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Everton outreach in America is now five years too late

Blues appoint Tim Howard club ambassador, but has the horse already bolted the stable?

Everton v Norwich City - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Everton recently appointed former goalkeeper Tim Howard as International Ambassador in the United States after the 40-year-old decided to finally hang up his gloves.

The Everton ambassadorial position will see him focus on supporting commercial activities for the Club and its Official Club Partners - and continue to build the profile of Everton in the USA, much in the vein of former teammates Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman who have been performing in similar roles worldwide after retiring from the game.

With how popular the Premier League has now become in the United States, this is a good move to ensure that Everton remain in the forefront of new fans’ eyes, but there remain concerns that the Toffees have missed the boat as far as truly cementing their status as the People’s Club across the pond.

11% of U.S. adults and 52% of self-described “avid” soccer fans said the English Premier League was their favorite European soccer league

57% of the fans who had a favorite Premier League team said they began following that team within the past 5 years

Over the last few decades, the Blues have had a number of American players pull on the iconic kit and run out onto the Goodison Park pitch: Predrag Radosavljevic (aka Preki) - 46 appearances in ‘92-’94; Joe Max-Moore - 52 appearances in ‘99-’02; Brian McBride - 8 appearances in ‘03; Tim Howard - 352 appearances in ‘06-’16 and Landon Donovan - 17 appearances in ‘10-’12.

In just the Premier League era, the Toffees have 477 appearances from American players, second only to Fulham one game ahead.

The popularity of the Premier League itself has shot up in the last decade, and the majority of the new fans have approached the league with no preconceived notions on who to support, but have consequently picked a team to support (Morning Consult, August 2019).

Most Premier League Fans are Relative Newcomers
Morning Consult

A number of the readers of Royal Blue Mersey have expressed that they only became Everton fans because they admired Tim Howard and Landon Donovan. The last time the Blues made a trip out to the US was back in the summer of 2013, well before television coverage of the Premier League was widely available.

Since the shift of coverage to the NBC family, 34.6 million TV viewers have tuned into Premier League broadcasts for each of the past six seasons, easily more than twice the 13.3 million viewers for the 2012-13 season on the ESPN and Fox channels. The Blues have done precious little to market itself since then.

A Gallup poll released by Forbes in January 2018 found that 7% of Americans named soccer as their favorite sport to watch in a survey completed during December. While that may not sound like much, the figure represents a significant, three-percentage-point gain from just four years ago. Soccer is the only sport to post such a large increase. Football (37%, down from 39%), basketball (11%, down from 12%) and baseball (9%, down from 13%) all showed declining numbers. Hockey was at 4%, up from 3%.

In that time, just about every one of the bigger English clubs have been to America on a preseason tour and taken advantage of an impressionable fanbase looking for clubs to support.

While there is a strong grassroots network being built in the form of viewing parties at most major North American cities thanks to the work of groups like Everton USA, the club itself certainly could have done more to promote the brand. Preseason tours are just one way of doing that - the Blues have also hamstrung themselves with poor merchandise marketing deals such as the current one with Kitbag, which have made it more difficult to find Everton kits on the shelves than for most of the popular Premier League teams.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, unlike the on-pitch performances. The Blues have done well in shipping from their online stores, with most purchases in customers’ hands in a relatively short period of time considering it’s being mailed internationally.

Additionally, the International Member program is also coming along nicely with a host of benefits associated with it, including a welcome pack with great club-themed gifts along with priority ticket access and merchandise discounts, as well as exclusive access to news and videos.

Fifty-five percent of Premier League fans in the survey were under the age of 45, making it a significantly younger base than the followings for America’s most popular sports leagues, the NFL (43 percent under 45) and MLB (35 percent under 45).

It’s never too late and Everton can certainly come back into the reckoning as long as they take action quickly. The appointment of Howard as ambassador, combined with a good finish in the 2019-20 Premier League season as well as a preseason tour to the USA in the summer of 2020 will go a long way to winning over more undecided fans as well as unsure Blues.