COMMENTARY ǀ Newly promoted Hull City opens its 2013-14 EPL season with a high-profile, multi-storyline match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Three years removed from relegation, Hull could scarcely have wished for a bigger stage on which to make its first appearance back in the globally expanding reach of the EPL spotlight.
As jubilantly hopeful and exciting as season-opening matches are, the compelling storylines accompanying Hull City's visit to Stamford Bridge ensure an extra measure of interest from international viewers and media alike. The Aug. 17 fixture not only features Hull's first EPL appearance since being relegated at the conclusion of the 2009-2010 season, but it is also the inaugural match for Jose Mourinho's second managerial stint with the Blues.
Thanks to NBC's much-publicized multi-year $250 million deal to televise all matches in the United States, America's growing numbers of EPL followers will be an emphatic part of the international audience.
No, this one match will not make or break the season for either club. However, given the excitement and interest accompanying the start of the EPL season -- including here in America -- and NBC's coverage, Hull City will be afforded an unprecedented opportunity to (re)introduce the club to the expansive American soccer fanbase.
Win, lose or draw, a competitive and spirited effort by the Tigers against the 2012 UEFA Champions League winners and perennial EPL contender will not only be a showcase introduction to the U.S. audience, but will also begin reeling in Stateside followers and energizing the gradual process of building an American-based Hull City supporters presence.
Within the American EPL market, Hull City is a relative unknown in comparison to its opening-day opponents. With the exception of Manchester United, along with Liverpool and possibly Arsenal somewhere in the discussion, the sheer numbers of Chelsea supporters is likely unrivaled in the United States.
At May 23 and 25 friendlies in St. Louis and New York, respectively, Manchester City quickly became acquainted with Chelsea's legion of American supporters.
The day before at the Busch Stadium friendly in St. Louis, 10,000 fans -- the majority of which dawned Chelsea jerseys and wielded Chelsea scarves -- showed up to watch the Blues' practice session. At the friendly the following evening, the overwhelming Chelsea support was patently obvious to even the most neutral observers among the national TV viewing audience.
Two days later at Yankee Stadium, Chelsea supporters made it abundantly clear that notwithstanding the preceding unveiling of New York City FC, the new Manchester City-backed MLS club, New York is also Chelsea territory.
For its part, Hull City has a smattering of supporters strewn across America, but it has yet to establish itself in sufficient numbers or in an organized way, so as to register on the nation's collective soccer landscape.
By making the most of its high-profile opening-day match, possibly leaving Stamford Bridge with a point … or three, Hull City will not only emphatically announce its return to the EPL, but it will also show an unprecedented Hull City-viewing U.S. audience it is an EPL side that warrants attention and allegiance.
Harold has followed Hull City AFC since its Third Division days of the late-'90s. He has played, coached and been involved with a variety of soccer/football-related interests in the U.S., England, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, and Italy for nearly three decades.
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