Chelsea hopes Christian Pulisic will help the London club expand its U.S. fan base and assist the team’s campaign to combat anti-Semitism.
Chelsea bought the 20-year-old midfielder from Borussia Dortmund in January for 64 million euros (then $73 million), by far a record price for an American player, then loaned him back to the German club for the rest of the season. Pulisic can’t play for Chelsea for a May 15 charity exhibition at the New England Revolution dubbed the “Final Whistle on Hate,” but will play a role in Chelsea’s promotional efforts after he joins in July.
“He’s a personable boy. He’s well-liked in this country,” Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck said during an interview Thursday with The Associated Press. “So of course I would expect him when we come here and play some friendly matches, which is what our objective is in the summer of 2020. Then yes, I think he will he will be helpful.”
Manchester United has the highest average U.S. viewers among Premier League clubs this season at 630,000 on NBC, NBCSN and their digital streams, topping Arsenal (573,000), Liverpool (563,000) Chelsea (534,000), Manchester City (494,000) and Tottenham (477,000). Kickoff times and appearances on the late Saturday NBC match impact audience.
“The surveys tell us that we’re very strong on the two coasts,” Buck said. “We have some work to do in Middle America. I think we’re doing in round terms as well as any other big club.”
Next month’s charity match is a project of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and New England Patriots and Revolution owner Robert Kraft to focus on the increase in hate crimes. Beneficiaries include the World Jewish Congress; the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that was the site of a mass shooting last year; the Anti-Defamation League; and the Holocaust Educational Trust. Both teams will take part in the “March of the Living” event from the Auschwitz to Birkenau concentration camps in Poland on May 2, a remembrance of the Holocaust.
“What we’re trying to do, mostly in the UK but also here, is educate people, make them aware of the issue and hopefully change some attitudes,” Buck said.
British Sports Minister Mims Davies told the House of Commons on Thursday she wants The Football Association, English soccer’s governing body, to review its rules and ensure that players and clubs are not punished if they walk off the field following racist abuse.
“If players on the pitch who are the recipient of this kind of behavior feel it appropriate to leave the pitch, I support it,” Buck said. “I personally think that if that happens once or twice, it would cause a change in behavior. Having said that, there are people that view it a little bit differently and say that if we start taking players off the pitch for this kind of behavior, there will be more of this behavior because there are so many idiots out there — that they would like to see teams being taken off the pitch.”
On other topics:
—Buck said Tottenham’s new 62,000-seat stadium in London, with its large number of restaurants and bars in the regular seats, will impact other clubs’ planning for new venues and renovations. Chelsea announced in December 2015 it planned to build a 60,000-seat stadium on the site of 41,000-capacity Stamford Bridge, then said last May the project was being delayed because of an unfavorable investment climate.
“In our plans for a new stadium, which are currently on hold, we are proposing to do many of the things that Spurs have done, but it’s a matter of getting the balance right,” he said of the mix of regular and corporate seats. “We’re all trying to get the fans there for longer periods of time, trying to get them into our shop, trying to get them to buy other things, definitely all trying to do that. … Mainland Europe has even much less than they do in the Premier League clubs. It’s not part of the culture historically. But I think it will change.”
—Buck remains confident in the search he heads for a new Premier League chief executive. Susanna Dinnage accepted the job in November to replace Richard Scudamore, then withdrew the following month when she decided to stay at Discovery Inc., where she is president of Animal Planet.
“There’s been plenty of candidates,” Buck said. “We’re trying to find the right person that has to fill a multiple of roles from stakeholder management to selling media to dealing with clubs to putting forth good causes. It’s a job that requires a lot of different skills, and we want to make sure we find the right person for the long term.”