For the first time in over thirty years, arguably the biggest rivalry world club soccer will be played outside Spain – Miami being the choice of venue. On Friday it was announced that the stadium formerly known as Joe Robbie will play host to Real Madrid CF vs FC Barcelona – known as “El Clasico.” The two clubs have both been regularly listed in the top five of the Forbes annual countdown of most valuable sporting brands in the world, along with the New York Yankees and Manchester United (and whomever is the other top five team in a given year).
The International Champions Cup (ICC), a summer competition which began in 2013 and is played over three continents will return to Miami in 2017 with this titanic matchup. The ICC was launched by Stephen Ross and Matt Higgins in 2013 with the creation of Relevent Sports, led by Charlie Stillitano and Jon Sheiman. El Clásico Miami will mark the first-ever match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F. to take place in North America.
Hailed as one of sport’s all-time greatest rivalries, the current rosters for each club feature some of the best players in the world. Real Madrid C.F. is anchored by recently crowned FIFA Men’s Player of the Year and Ballon D’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo, alongside Welsh superstar Gareth Bale, while perennial world-class Argentinean national, Lionel Messi, and famed Brazilian Neymar along with Luis Suarez lead FC Barcelona.
“I am thrilled to bring the International Champions Cup back to the city of Miami,” said Stephen Ross, RSE Ventures chairman and co-founder and Miami Dolphins owner. “The opportunity to showcase two of the most storied clubs in the history of the sport is why we created this tournament. That it will take place at Hard Rock Stadium is a testament to the recent transformation of this venue into a global entertainment destination.”
A big question for many soccer fans and professionals (such as myself) in this country is why does Miami and southeast Florida in general continue to embrace the South American and European game better than perhaps any place outside those continents itself, while snubbing the domestic pro game? We’ve seen virtually no push to bring Major League Soccer (MLS) to Miami from fans despite virtually being handed a team in a way no other city has in recent memory. In Central Florida, organic fan support and a strong community club allowed Orlando City SC to move from the third division to MLS and now become a model club at that level. Currently in the Tampa Bay area, the Rowdies are pushing #MLS2StPete and finding lots of success both locally and nationally. Community leaders as well fans have embraced the potential move by the Rowdies from Division 2 USL to Division 1 MLS.
In southeast Florida, a historic local pro club the Fort Lauderdale Strikers have gone on hiatus, while another Miami FC enters its second season and has become well-known for ticket giveaways and classic minor league-like marketing to attract fans (not that anything is wrong with that – in fact MFC probably deserves credit for understanding how to attract fans to a minor league game in a VERY difficult market) . The region has seen countless pro teams collapse in the past and fan indifference when it comes to stimulating interest in the domestic game locally.
So now El Clasico comes to Miami. No question the match will fill the stadium – but will those fans feeling the big of seeing live soccer either support Miami FC, one of the many local amateur clubs or push for MLS to come to the area? Based on history, the answer is no, but hopefully we will see something positive for the area come from this match.
It’s also worth noting the game should help attract tourists to the area in what is one of the slowest parts of the year – late July. So from that standpoint, this match is certainly worth embracing as it will no doubt help the local economy in its own way.