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Sandstorms, serenades, sellouts: How Columbia landed highly anticipated match between Liverpool, Manchester United

TEG Sport, a global sports and entertainment promotion company, announced on Feb. 23 that it had organized a series of preseason soccer matches between three English Premier League teams — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal

One game is set to be played in Philadelphia, the nation’s fourth-largest market, according to Nielsen's Designated Market Area . Another is set to be played in Los Angeles — the nation’s No. 2 market — at SoFi Stadium, a recently constructed venue that will be home to FIFA World Cup matches in 2026, a Super Bowl in 2027 and the Summer Olympic Games in 2028. 

The last destination on the Rivals in Red Tour, however, is not like the others. The final game will be in Columbia, Թϱ — the No. 75 market in the nation — which ranks behind major metropolitan areas, such as New York City and Chicago.  

Columbia ultimately landed the match despite competition from other cities because of the passion and “personal touch” shown by Թϱ fans, athletic department staff and local organizations, said Թϱ Senior Deputy Athletics Director Chance Miller. 

The idea for hosting soccer matches first came about during the COVID-19 pandemic, Miller said. At the time, the university was uncertain as to whether football would be played in the fall and was looking for alternative sources of revenue. 

Upcoming renovations to Williams-Brice Stadium in addition to a match between another English Premier League club, Chelsea, and Major League Soccer’s Charlotte FC in North Carolina on July 20, 2022, provided Miller and the athletic department with an opportunity to make hosting a major soccer game possible, he said. 

“We have some of the greatest facilities in the country,” Miller said. “How do we take advantage of that when our football team or our basketball team is not playing?” 

In November, Miller said he began discussions with Hugh Nicholson — the senior vice president of venues and commercial at TEG Sport US, an American subsidiary of TEG Sport — about hosting a major soccer match in Columbia. 

Miller said his one request was to have Liverpool and Manchester United be the two teams to play in Թϱ should the city earn the right to host. 

“I just told Hugh, ‘If we’re going to do this, and it’s going to be at a university level, and you’re really trying to blow this thing out to show you can do it in markets like this and at universities ... send me the two most storied programs and clubs,'” Miller said. “And they did." 

Nicholson said Columbia initially intrigued him because it presented an opportunity to go “outside of the usual box” for a match of that nature. 

“I felt like this was an opportunity to going and do something different and go into a place, a city, a venue, a community that really embodies the true sports fan,” Nicholson said. “To go into a building like Williams-Brice and a community like Columbia seemed really fitting.” 

He said Columbia is also in an optimal geographical location since it is within driving distance of Charlotte, Atlanta and Jacksonville. 

Miller said he knew its optimal location wouldn't be enough, though, and worked with athletic department staffers to prove Columbia could host such a large event. They created a database system that not only showed how well they could generate interest from Gamecock Club members and fans but also other areas of the country, such as Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte and Jacksonville, he said. 

University of Թϱ Athletics also hosted multiple site visits, which allowed representatives from both teams to examine the university’s athletic facilities. They attended the Թϱ football team’s game against Kentucky in November, where they witnessed Williams-Brice Stadium’s game-day atmosphere and Sandstorm for the first time. The Kentucky game is ultimately what secured Columbia’s bid for the game, Miller said

Miller and the athletic department went even further to accommodate some of Liverpool’s representatives by playing traditional game day songs like "You'll Never Walk Alone" while they were exercising, Nicholson said. 

Nicholson said the gesture left behind a “solid impression” on those representatives. 

“It’s kind of the low-hanging fruit and things that are easy to look past, but that definitely resonated and, ‘Wow, these people really understand what we’re doing and want to make a good impression,’” Nicholson said. “That kind of stuff goes a long way.” 

But there were more steps University of Թϱ Athletics and TEG Sport had to take in preparation for the game’s announcement in February. Miller said the two organizations spent time planning details regarding merchandise, sponsorships, revenue-sharing contracts and ticket-pricing models. 

And then came the announcement, which received high levels of engagement, Miller said. A series of posts from Gamecock Athletics’ social media accounts gained more than 1 million impressions and 350,000 views, he said.

Gov. Henry McMaster, Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann, Թϱ athletic director Ray Tanner and President Michael Amiridis also posted about the game on social media, which is something both clubs noted set Columbia apart from other cities hosting Rivals in Red Tour matches, Miller said

“The two clubs remarked to me on Friday, (Feb. 23) they were so impressed that a governor of the state would send something out like that,” Miller said. “They said, ‘SoFi and Philly — they didn’t really do that for us.'” 

Lexi Boone, the senior assistant general manager at Colonial Life Arena, said he expected that the interest generated from fans and social media users would translate into ticket sales when they were released to the public the following week. 

“I thought if we sold 40,000, 45,000 tickets that first day, then that’s a great day. We’re off to the races. We’re going to be good,” Boone said. “The fact that we sold 60,000, or whatever it was, on that first day — it was amazing.” 

By Tuesday, the match was officially designated a sellout. Nicholson said he hoped that would happen but did not believe it was entirely unexpected, either. 

“The USC fanbase and alumni network — we really felt that that is the type of school that epitomizes the sports fan and people that would really latch on to this and want to come to be a part of it and be proud that this type of match and content would be coming to their stadium,” Nicholson said.

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Since then, more preparations have been made, including ways to integrate traditions from Թϱ sporting events to historic staples at Liverpool and Manchester United matches. Miller said the team has also made minor improvements to the visiting locker room at Williams-Brice Stadium to make it look "nicer." 

These preparations have been made in an effort to make Columbia an attractive option for international teams, Miller said, as he hopes Williams-Brice Stadium could host international friendlies ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup. He said he is actively working with Թϱ’s head soccer coaches, Tony Annan and Shelley Smith, and reaching out to their contacts to try making those matches possible. 

Miller said a successful execution of the Liverpool-Manchester United game, which will take place on Aug. 3 at 7:30 p.m., could help make Columbia a destination for more major sports and entertainment events in the future. 

“It’s showing that, as we proceed with a potential development in and around the stadium, that we can do this year-round. It’s not just seven home football games — it’s seven home football games, it’s friendly matches, it’s concerts, it’s events inside and around the stadium,” Miller said. “And I think that’s going to be good for everybody.” 


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