By Peter Schwartz
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Since it opened in 2009, the new Yankee Stadium has hosted numerous non-baseball events including football games, concerts, boxing matches and hockey games. It’s also hosted a few soccer matches, and there will be plenty more starting next year when New York City FC calls Yankee Stadium home for its inaugural Major League Soccer season.
But first things first.
Next Wednesday, Yankee Stadium will host another international match as Manchester City faces Liverpool as part of the Guinness International Champions Cup, a transformation of preseason tours for eight European clubs into a competitive tournament.
The tournament, now in its second year, is organized by Relevant Sports, a company founded by Miami Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross and former New York Jets President Matt Higgins.
This will be the fifth soccer match to take place at the new Yankee Stadium.
Soccer Matches in Yankee Stadium
July 22, 2012: Chelsea FC 1 – Paris Saint-Germain 1
August 8, 2012: Real Madrid 5 – A.C. Milan 1
May 25, 2013: Manchester City FC 5 – Chelsea FC 3
June 11, 2013: Spain 2 – Ireland 0
“It means so much to us because it’s iconic,” said Charlie Stillitano, the CEO of Relevant Sports. “These players come from some of the great stadiums in the world, and they’re sitting there and they’re all taking pictures and are just mesmerized because they’re in Yankee Stadium. Even if they don’t know baseball specifically, they all know Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. It’s really a cool thing.”
What makes the Manchester City-Liverpool matchup at Yankee Stadium so fascinating is its connection to baseball. Manchester City and the Yankees own New York City FC while Liverpool is owned by Red Sox owner John Henry.
So you could say that next Wednesday, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry will be extended onto the pitch.
“You can’t make that stuff up,” said Stillitano. “It meant a lot to us, and it meant a great deal to (Manchester) City to play at Yankee Stadium. We had other stadiums available, but when we had an opportunity to do this game, there was only one place that this game was going.”
And that is in the Bronx, where soccer will soon be a common attraction. But if you’re used to baseball at Yankee Stadium, it will be a little different attending a soccer match. The pitch (field) runs from left field to the first-base line, so what might be great seats for baseball won’t be nearly as good for soccer.
“It’s a different configuration,” said Stillitano. “You may be at seats that are the cheapest seats in the house (for a Yankee game), but could be the best seats in the house for a soccer game.”
The match is expected to be a box-office success. Yankee Stadium seats 49,642 for soccer (it will be downsized to 33,444 for MLS matches), and as of Monday there were only about 2,600 seats left.
“It’s going to sell out,” said Stillitano. “We feel confident that it will sell out.”
For ticket information, visit the tournament’s website www.internationalchampionscup.com
After a successful first tournament that drew a combined 350,000 fans, the Champions Cup is primed for a bigger and better second year. This year’s tournament is expected to attract between 600,000 and 700,000 fans.
“We’ve been really pleasantly surprised,” said Stillitano. “It’s a pretty extraordinary jump in attendance.”
One of the reasons why will be the change in format.
Last year there were doubleheaders, including one at MetLife Stadium leading up to the championship game between Real Madrid and Chelsea in front of almost 70,000 fans at Sun Life Stadium in Miami. This year, there’s a new format. The eight teams are split into two groups. Each team will play three matches in group play and the two first-place clubs will meet in the championship game on August 4, once again, in Miami.
When it comes to “friendly” matches, international teams don’t normally bring a representative team to North America for the preseason tours. But this is a tournament, so it’s important to note that both Manchester City and Liverpool are bringing top-level talent to Yankee Stadium.
“What we have is not really representative teams, but THE teams,” said Stillitano.
Liverpool’s roster includes top stars such as Steve Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Phillipe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling. Twelve players on their roster were on teams that played in the World Cup.
Manchester City’s squad will include top stars such as Yaya Toure, David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Joe Hart, as well as newcomers Fernando and Willy Caballero.
“We’re really blessed because we’re going to have, for all intents and purposes, the actual team,” said Stillitano. “Across the board (in the tournament) we’ve been really fortunate, and this game is no exception.”
At this time next year, New York City FC will be calling Yankee Stadium home as it begins play in Major League Soccer. Next Wednesday, in perhaps what could be viewed as a final dress rehearsal, the ballpark will host two of the most famous soccer clubs in the world with a huge crowd on hand.
Manchester City, with a connection to the Yankees, takes on Liverpool, owned by the Red Sox.
Sounds like another special night at Yankee Stadium.
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