Chelsea triumph in US to clinch inaugural Premier League Summer Series

Football fans gather at FedEx Field in Maryland as league's popularity continues to grow stateside

Chelsea right-back Reece James lifts the Summer Series trophy at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. AFP
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Chelsea emerged victorious on Sunday in the Premier League Summer Series, held outside the US capital, easily beating Fulham 2-0 in the inaugural pre-season friendly tournament.

Football fans poured into FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, about 15km east of Washington, to catch a rare glimpse of their favourite Premier League teams playing on this side of the Pond.

“I'm here to see my boys play because we had a very bad season [last year],” said Simon Monthieu, a member of the US Air Force who also attended Chelsea's match against Newcastle in Philadelphia last week.

“And I'm here to see them play because … it's my only chance I get to see them."

FedEx Field also hosted Aston Villa play Brentford on Sunday for a double header in the summer heat.

On the pitch, Brentford midfielder Josh Dasilva's sensational curling effort past Aston Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez proved the highlight of a match that ended 3-3.

But Sunday's main attraction was the West London derby.

Thiago Silva and Christopher Nkunku both scored in the first half to help Chelsea lift the Summer Series trophy.

Most fans braving the US heatwave were wearing blue kits, with the biggest roars coming from Silva's goal in the 20th minute.

While the main action of the day took place inside the NFL stadium, there were stations on the outskirts where fans could pose with the Premier League official football, pretend to host a press conference inside Craven Cottage or get their faces painted.

The festivities in Landover did not just belong to those four football clubs, though.

Spotted in the shady concourse were fans wearing kits for Turkish club Besiktas, the Brazilian side Gremio, German giants Bayern Munich and Spain's Real Madrid, English stalwarts Liverpool and second-tier club Swansea City.

“The event's brought a lot more people than I thought there would be,” said Jeremy, who declined to give his last name, who had travelled from South Carolina with his family.

While he may not be an avid follower, his son, 18, has had him wake up as early as 7am to tune into the Premier League.

This year's Summer Series follows a season in which the Premier League's US audience continued to grow.

The 2022/23 season was the second-most watched ever with a 3 per cent increase on the previous season, said NBC, which has broadcast the Premier League in the US since 2013.

Last season brought a total audience of 527,000 viewers for each televised match.

Arsenal's 3-2 win over Manchester United on January 22 was the most-watched Premier League match ever in the US, with 1.9 million viewers across NBC and its streaming platforms.

The Premier League clubs in this year's Summer Series are the latest to have embarked on a tour of the US, which will co-host the 2026 World Cup.

Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Arsenal had all toured in the US this year as well. So has Wrexham, perhaps the most famous fourth-tier side in the world.

Meanwhile, the sport's biggest star lives in Miami.

Lionel Messi's first game for Inter Miami drew in 1.79 million viewers, according to Nielsen, the most for a football match in nearly two decades.

By comparison, David Beckham's 2007 debut and Zlatan Ibrahimovic's in 2017 bow drew in 1.5 million and 565,000 viewers, respectively.

By audience standards, Major League Soccer has some catching up to do.

The league's average viewership was up 16 per cent in the 2022 season, but at 343,000 viewers on average it is still far behind the British export.

And so while the biggest football star lives in Miami, expect more fans to continue watching the Premier League with their coffee mugs in hand on weekend mornings.

Updated: July 31, 2023, 4:37 AM