Only in America could this happen. This week, a friendly match will be played before a potential crowd of 60,000 – while the host country’s national team is 7,000 miles away. On Wednesday, the U.S. will be playing against Russia in Krasnodar. That night, Brazil will gather its Euro-based aces for a match against Colombia at MetLife Stadium.
This match marks the starting point for RelEvent, a newly formed sports marketing group, and it could mark the beginning of something much larger. Next summer, RelEvent president and CEO Charlie Stillitano, former general manager of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, hopes to hold a tournament involving some of the world’s top club teams, similar to the Champions World events he staged in 2003 and '04.
Stillitano has been competing with MLS and its marketing arm, SUM, plus the U.S. Soccer Federation, in organizing friendlies. Now Stillitano wants to up the stakes and include MLS teams in the summer tournament, and by providing a cash prize incentive, Stillitano could possibly be forcing MLS to figure out a way to give its teams more financial resources.
A lot of logistical arrangements had to come off for the Brazil-Colombia game to work, especially after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey. There was talk of canceling the contest. Nobody knew if the stadium would be functional or if a grass field from North Carolina would be able to be transported up the coast. Ticket sales tailed off after a strong start. But the weather started clearing and the stadium opened for the New York Giants. The pallets of turf were loaded onto trucks. Game on.
That's good news for a new marketing and promotion firm that is trying to find a home in the U.S. soccer landscape.
“Communities have been hit hard and this is going to be a nice diversion for people,” Stillitano said. “I think a lot of people are excited for the game. I was waiting in line at a gas station and a guy was talking about it – he didn’t know who I was – and he was saying, ‘I hope they have the game.’ And I told him to trust me, the game was going to be played.”
Stillitano has scaled back crowd expectations, though both teams are committed to presenting their top players. Brazil’s Mano Menezes has called in Kaka’, Neymar, Pato, and Thiago Silva. Colombia’s Jose Pekerman will have Radamel Falcao and Teofilo Gutierrez.
“Someone said we could fill the stadium just with scouts who want to sign Falcao,” Stillitano joked.
If RelEvent can become relevant and stage more high-profile events in the United States, though, it will be no joking matter for soccer fans and organizations in America.
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