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Volume 20 No. 42
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ICC eyes mega event around Barcelona-Real Madrid

The International Champions Cup has succeeded in bringing some of the world’s biggest soccer clubs to the U.S. Now entering its fifth year, the tournament wants to create an event that lives up to the matches.

The tournament, operated by Relevent Sports, will announce its complete 2017 lineup and slate of matches later this month. However, as part of its U.S. tournament, it has secured one of the world’s biggest rivalries: La Liga superpowers Barcelona and Real Madrid, better known in the world of soccer as El Clásico.

The rivalry, which dates to 1929 and is now headlined by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, has never been played outside of Spain. But it will feature as part of this year’s ICC tournament with a match at the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium on July 29.

“This is the biggest rivalry in the world, and even though it’s not an official league game, it almost doesn’t matter — these teams never want to lose to each other,” said Stephen Ross, owner of Relevent Sports’ parent company, RSE Ventures, and the Dolphins. “The magnitude of this game is the biggest we’ve ever had.”

The game in July will be the first for the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry outside of Spain.

Both clubs have competed in ICC tournaments in the U.S. before, but neither club has wanted to play the other outside of Spain. To persuade them, Ross, along with Relevent Sports Chairman Charlie Stillitano, RSE Ventures CEO Matt Higgins and Dolphins President and CEO Tom Garfinkel, flew to Spain ahead of the teams’ December matchup, meeting with Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez in the morning and Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu later that day.

“In the past the reaction might have been, ‘Are you kidding me? You want us to play the most sacred game in the world in Florida?’” Stillitano said. “But as Mr. Ross explained to them, we wanted to do something special, something that would be a marriage between sports and entertainment along with a high-level game.”

Ross said the goal is to create a “Super Bowl-quality event.” The ICC has engaged the 2020 Super Bowl Committee, as well as the visitors bureau of Miami, to build out the experience.

Plans are still being completed, but they call for another ICC match to take place in Miami earlier in the week, followed by a Real Madrid and Barcelona legends match, an open practice at Hard Rock Stadium with the current teams, and the El Clásico match to wrap things up. In addition, the ICC is looking to do a skills competition with a series of challenges, akin to the NHL All-Star Game skills competition, Stillitano said.

Perhaps its biggest endeavor, the ICC will create the Casa El Clásico in Miami’s Bayfront Park, something Stillitano said will mirror the NFL Experience activation that runs alongside the Super Bowl. That will feature concerts, special appearances, a museum experience with historical team artifacts and other activities.

“We’ve seen a lot of things that the NFL has done around the NFL Experience, what the NHL has done around games like the Winter Classic, the NBA All-Star Game week — experiences that are uniquely American,” Stillitano said. “In Europe, especially in soccer, big events like the [UEFA] Champions League final are often presented to fans like, “Here’s the game, cheer and watch it and that’s it.” We want to marry that intense feeling you get at a European match with the sports and entertainment element you get in the U.S.”

Ross envisions an event that will draw fans not only from across Miami and the U.S. but the world as well. The goal, he said, will be to create a platform in the city around the ICC that will return every year with different high-level European club rivalries.

“We want people to think that Miami is a party this week every year, and it’s a soccer party,” he said.

Ross declined to comment on how much the ICC would spend to create these events, but said sponsors would be involved in many of the elements. While the ICC has not yet projected the level of foot traffic at the outdoor events, it is expecting that any event held at the 65,326-seat stadium will be a sellout. RSE and its sister companies will handle all aspects of organization and sales of the events.

Stillitano said discussions have begun with potential event sponsors and others interested in aligning with the ICC brand more broadly. Deals are expected to be completed ahead of the tournament’s formal launch.