SBJ/April 15-21, 2013/Media

Fox near deal to show new soccer event

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Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ dream of transforming Sun Life Stadium into a center for soccer in the United States could get a big boost this summer by way of an international tournament involving some top soccer brands.

Details are sparse, as organizers had yet to finalize deals with the teams or media outlets by deadline. But talks have progressed far enough that Ross’ RSE Ventures has scheduled a press conference for Tuesday in Miami to unveil the single-elimination tournament.

Stephen Ross will bring international teams to Sun Life Stadium.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The event’s organizers are close to finalizing terms with Fox on a three-year deal to cover what’s being billed as the International Champions Cup. While nothing has been signed, initial plans have Fox Soccer Channel carrying the tournament this year, with Fox Sports 1 carrying it in 2014 and 2015.

Financial terms of the Fox deal are not known.

The tournament will feature eight teams playing matches on both U.S. coasts in as many as seven stadiums. The tournament’s format will be single-elimination, featuring at least one team from the top leagues in England, Germany, Italy and Spain. A Major League Soccer club, most likely the Los Angeles Galaxy, also will participate, sources said.

Veteran soccer executive Charlie Stillitano is handling negotiations with the teams for RSE Ventures, which will pay for the teams to participate. A source said a marquee team like Manchester United could command as much as $2 million. Smaller upper-division clubs would cost around $500,000.

The tournament will culminate in two games at Sun Life Stadium in early August. It’s expected that the tournament winner will get a cash prize of around $1 million.

Insignia, a New York marketing firm that is a supporting company for Ross’ RSE Ventures, is handling branding and sales.

“Sometimes, the guarantee for a big European team will be bigger than a million, so this may be more of a marketing ploy than anything else,” said Mark Noonan, former MLS executive vice president of marketing, who now heads consultancy FocalSport. “You can make some decent money if you control the venue, so that may be Ross’ play here.”

Ross announced plans for a $400 million upgrade of the 26-year-old facility earlier this year. The renovation would include a canopy roof, in the style of many Euro soccer stadia, with plans to have this in time for the 2016 Super Bowl, which the stadium hopes to host.

Local officials have been meeting to determine the date of a referendum on the portion of the renovation to be publicly financed.

MLS has its sights on adding an expansion franchise in Miami, with Ross as the owner. A strong showing with the pair of matches in August would help push Miami as a top soccer city in the U.S. The Miami Fusion joined MLS in 1998, but the club was under-financed and folded in 2001.

Organizers have shopped the tournament around to other media outlets. ESPN, which previously carried the World Football Challenge — a collection of “friendly” matches — passed on it, sources said. ESPN2 averaged 220,000 viewers for the five World Football Cup matches it carried last year, down considerably from the 419,000 viewers it averaged in 2011 for nine telecasts.

CAA Sports used to own the rights to the World Football Challenge but sold the rights last year to RSE Ventures, a company founded by Ross and Matt Higgins in 2012. In October 2012, RSE hired Stillitano and Jon Sheiman from CAA Sports to be CEO and COO of the company’s soccer division.

International Champions Cup organizers say their event is different because it’s set up as a single elimination tournament and not just a round of friendlies.

The move comes as Fox is in the process of rebranding its Fox Soccer Channel into an entertainment channel called FXX. It will launch an all-sports channel called Fox Sports 1 in August.

Fox lost rights to the English Premier League to NBC starting this season. But it still holds rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Last June, Miami’s Sun Life Stadium carried an exhibition match called World Soccer Masters that drew a crowd of 48,000 in a driving rainstorm. Fox Soccer Channel carried the match live. This won’t be RSE Ventures’ only soccer push this year, as it’s organizing a pair of Manchester City-Chelsea friendlies this spring: May 23 in St. Louis and May 25 in New York. It also is organizing an Ireland-Spain match for New York and a Spain-Haiti match for Miami this spring.

Staff writer Christopher Botta contributed to this report.

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